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*I received a free copy of Firsts from St. Martin's Griffin via Netgalley in exchange of an honest and unbiased review*
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.
Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.
When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.
Firsts is an emotional read, told from Mercedes’ point of view. Mercy keeps everyone she knows at arms’ length, and wants to be in control. As the story unfolds, it becomes very clear why that is, and my heart broke for her. The ending was a little ‘too easy’ for me, wrapped up too nicely for such a dark and gritty story.
Mercy’s story in Firsts is one of an abandoned teen, where after her father left, her mother more or less checked out, and she was left to tend for herself with the strangest parental guidance I have ever read about. Kim, Mercy’s mom, was more interested in how Mercy dressed – for success with the boys – than anything else. And for Mercy, control was very important, as was keeping her friends away from all her troubles. And as the story unfolds, the trauma of Mercy’s past slowly comes to light, explaining in many ways why she had taken the decision to help virgin boys from her school to be somewhat experienced so that their first time with their virgin girlfriends could be as close to perfect as possible.
Because she was so smart when it came to everything that had to do with school, tutoring other kids in chemistry or physics, Mercy had broadened her horizons when she realized there was a way for her to help in other ways as well. And apart from her best friend, Angela, she hasn’t let anyone close to her in a long time. Between prayer group and her extracurricular activities, she’s a busy girl, and the way Kim is only in the periphery made me want to slap her to have her wake up and really get to know her troubled daughter. Firsts is about much more than the sex, though, it is about friendship and finding oneself, and I think that this was the hardest part for Mercy. Thinking about the past, letting people in, and trying to construct her future was like a puzzle with missing pieces for her.
Writing about sex in YA is never easy, and having the main female character sleep with different guys to help them be good for their boyfriends was an angle I hadn’t seen before I picked up Firsts. I really loved that there was no judging, and also that Mercy always made sure that only safe sex was happening, as she had a wide variety of condoms to go with her ‘teaching’. The only guy she slept with more than once was Zach, and while he wanted nothing more than being her boyfriend, he let her keep him at arms length in the hope that she would come to her senses at a later time.
Firsts is a complicated story, where Mercy is afraid of being found out, but she can’t make herself stop helping just one more guy. So between the fear of being exposed and the need for validation, her tight-rope becomes tighter as the story moves forward. Written in first person present tense, the I felt like I was right there with Mercy, and the only hope I had was that no matter where the chips fell in the end, she would come out on the other side still being strong, and with a more accomplished feeling of self.
I wish there was a way I could take the Watcher off my list, but that’s the thing about sex. Once it happens, it can’t unhappen.
What I couldn’t tell him was that I wanted, for some desperate reason, for Jillian’s first time to be what mine never was. Jillian was everything I wasn’t – pure, innocent, and unaware of how much pain the opposite sex could inflict, physically and emotionally. I wanted her to stay unaware.
I really feel for guys. They have the hard part, physically and emotionally. Virginity is supposed to be something a girl gives up only when she is ready and feels comfortable, something a girl discusses at length with her friends and flip-flops over a million times in her mind before actually doing it. A guy is expected to be born ready.