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Firsts: A Novel by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Firsts: A Novel

by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

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Originally posted at Tea & Titles

* We received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Firsts was one of Michelle and I’s most anticipated releases for 2016, so you can probably imagine our excitement when we got approved for a copy via NetGalley. I’d seen these incredible reviews from Inge and Jamie who are people I trust very much in this world, which just made me even more excited.

This book was incredible—it made me laugh, it made me want to throw my Kobo against a wall, which is basically all the makings of a good book. I usually find in a lot of contemporaries that I hate the main female characters. There’s always something about them. Either they’re annoying, or hypocritical or just plain stupid. I actually really liked Mercedes, yes sometimes she drove me crazy but on the whole she was an interesting character to read about. Her situation was crazy. I absolutely loved reading about it, but it was mad. There were moments that made me laugh about it. Others when I felt completely sympathetic for Mercedes. She had some extreme guts to be able to go through what she did.

I loved the side characters too—Faye and Zach were my absolute favourites. They are both incredible friends to Mercedes, even if sometimes she took them for a granted a bit. That’s kind of a human thing though, isn’t it? Sometimes we mess up, especially around the ones we love most. I just really appreciated that they stuck with her even though things were shitty for all of them.

Ignoring that slightly weird tangent there. Naturally, there were a few things about the book I didn’t like. There were a couple of moments that I didn’t like. I won’t go into details because of spoilers, but some of the scenes with the guys made me very uncomfortable. Not because of the sex that was taking place, but just the way it went on—at times it felt a bit, well ‘blurred’, shall we say? There was also the big reveal at the end. There was the one part I just felt didn’t fit. The story was awful and touching enough without that included.

All in all, I did really, really enjoyed Firsts and I would recommend it for lovers of contemporaries. ( )
  EarlGreyBooks | Aug 2, 2017 |
I was very glad to be able to review this. So, first of all, I have to thank Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for providing me with the ARC, on a read-to-review basis.

In sum, Mercedes lives in a dysfunctional family. Her father left home when she was younger—and named her after a car—, her mother is never really home except to push for unhealthy diets and to give not-very-age-appropriate advices, and the person she used to love used her, fooling her into sleeping with him. When she was thirteen. Thus, she decides to help other girls have a better first sexual experience by teaching their virgin boyfriends how to treat a girl right. She surrounds herself with numbers and formulas, and try to follow logic, patterns. At school, she is friends with the person who wouldn't pry into her secret life, who also happens to be a convict Christian. At home, she refuses to call her mother by name. She also won't accept that her "Wednesday friend" becomes anything beyond a one-day-a-week fun time. For Mercedes, life can be fit in a formula, and if she balances right on one side, she'll know what to expect on the other. She follows her strict rules. Until she doesn't.

The five-virgins pay-forward deal becomes ten going to eleven, and she doesn't even enjoy going through planning the big date prior to the act, or giving detailed instructions. Maybe the last few weren't even virgins but she did enjoy it. Sometimes, not even that but she did agree to it, so she has to go to the end. One day, it is her best friend's boyfriend who asks for her help.

I really enjoyed how the author conducted the organization of chaos Mercedes so desperately tried to force. Mercedes herself was a great character for a third of the book. To be honest, I liked most of the characters portrayed here. Even when they didn't act ideally, I could understand them. Like how Angela doesn't seem to notice much about her friend or perhaps not care, in case she does notice how on the verge of a collapse Mercedes finds herself. I loved Faye in that aspect. She was always there in a very believable manner.

And I'll start my critics from here. I feel the author got lost on what she was going for in the middle of the story. I asked myself many times if this wasn't LGBT because Mercedes friendship with Faye was time and again questioned as a possible physical attraction (and Mercedes being as methodical came to terms rather easily). Mercedes's mom was great. You know, she is responsible for her daughter's state of mind but I was unable to hate her, it was more like a love-to-hate feeling? I found her very charismatic and proof the author is very capable of building antagonizing characters. And then there was Zach. I found him cute from the start but I wasn't sure if I should cheer for them. Especially when he's not even mentioned on the summary.

Now I mentioned it, the summary is almost a spoiler, because the boyfriend, Charlie, only does anything at around 61% of the book. He's also my big no-no. The author recognizes by the ending Charlie seemed to have changed overnight. But why? Indeed, because Mercedes never got close, we don't know much of Charlie but this overnight observation comes from his very own girlfriend. Is he mentally ill? Was there a good reason? I feel the author should have spent more time there instead of villainizing him, black on white. It was a let-down because for 61% I impatiently waited for his proposition to Mercedes, but he wasn't himself by then. Moreover, we didn't need a bad guy for Mercedes's charade to fall through, and we reach the climax. I was biting my nails knowing it would all come down pretty soon. It's obvious the world has too many elements for someone to bring it to a formula—and the book recognizes that. Last, I don't want to spoil it but I didn't like Faye's plan by the end. I don't think it equalizes with what had happened. And I can't criticize this point but neither can I help not liking how the boyfriends were never much of the focus, though I'll give it to the author for at least acknowledging their share of the blame—through Faye's lines, have I mentioned how much I like her?

Summing up, I loved the author's style and would like to read more by her from now. This didn't get a higher grade but I can see her reaching five stars with other stories, Preferably if they are as daring as Firsts. She got me for follower. ( )
  AnnaBastos | Jun 13, 2017 |
This book was good, but it wasn't. That may not be obvious since I rated it so low. Firsts tackled some tough subjects, but it didn't really do so in a great or helpful way. I honestly wonder if it may have done more harm than good. The intention of the author, much like the intention of the main character Mercedes Ayres, was probably a good one at heart, but, as the proverb goes, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Good intentions cannot fix what is truly wrong with this book.

I understand the attempt to soften the approach people take to cheating and slut-shaming, but it doesn't actually achieve that. Instead, it pushes those stereotypes even further and dismisses criminal behavior as seduction and bad parenting. Luke is portrayed as the former boyfriend, while the behavior described is clearly sexually abusive. He groomed Mercedes before forcing her to perform oral sex on him and before eventually raping her. Charlie's actions are not really any better. Filming a person having sex without their consent is illegal. Trying to physically force someone to have sex with you is illegal. Attempting to blackmail someone over their sex life is, you guessed it, illegal. But the author chooses to say that Charlie was trying to "seduce" Mercedes. No, that's not seduction. Those are acts of sexual violence. Kim is an emotionally abusive and emotionally & physically neglectful mother, and Mercedes' absentee father who decided to punish Mercedes for her mom's decisions isn't much better. Kim is portrayed as a slut and a bimbo who only cares about spending the ill-gotten gains of her ex-husband. It's the kind of storyline that you might get from websites run by "men's rights activists" and MGTOW. Faye is the supposed-to-be-subtle-but-really-isn't cautionary tale. Zach is the night-in-shining armor. Angela is the good girl, the girl with the patience of a saint and who is let back into Mercy's life too easily. Mercedes is the fallen girl/girl gone bad who takes on the sins of all those involved & is nearly ruined in the process. She is constantly obsessing over what side she should show others, which is something that a lot of people feel, but it was never really addressed in the book. Yes, there's the whole, her mom screwed up how she thinks about sex, beauty, weight, etc., but that's not enough to explain why she is so hyper-critical and why she is convinced that she is unlovable. And if you're going to spend a whole book tearing down the main character's self-esteem, then you need to spend more than a couple of pages making her act like she's all-better all of a sudden.

Sometimes it came across as preachy. No, wait, it always came across as preachy. The sex lives of most of the characters in the book are regularly criticized. Angela, Mercy's BFF, is super-religious and pushes her faith onto everyone. (There are even Bible verses that are quoted and referenced.) Her sex-negative attitude only pushes Mercy to hide her actions. Kim's antics seem to push the idea that adultery leads women to even more vice-filled lives. Mercy's internal dialogue about how many guys she's had sex with pushed the idea that girls & women who have 'too much' sex might be seen as used up goods. The outcome at school for Mercedes pushes the idea that women and girls have to be punished for being sexual.

When Mercedes describes how she feels about sex and intimacy, even when she sometimes thinks she's attracted to Faye, it's almost like reading a pamphlet on sex addiction. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed by the way that her pseudo-attraction to Faye was handled. I know that with sex addiction, a person might engage in sex with people that they aren't really attracted to, but the whole "is she going to kiss me" thing that existed through most of their interactions was just shrugged away toward the end. I didn't know if Mercedes was only thinking about Faye that way because she really doesn't understand relationship boundaries or if she might not be as heterosexual as she eventually felt the need to declare she was. Sex addiction or figuring out that you're LGBTQ might be an interesting topic to cover in a novel, but it needs to be addressed in a better way.

Come to think of it: all of the issues that are described within the book need to be addressed properly.

In attempting to counter the sex-negativity that people, especially women and girls, encounter in their lives, the book actually pushed an even more sex-negative outlook. The book essentially normalized sexual violence, parental neglect, and shaming young women for being interested in sex. That's why I don't think I could ever truly love this book. It almost seemed like a book I could like until it became clear that it was just another in a long line of anti-sex books with ambiguous attitudes toward abuse and sexual assault. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. ( )
  janersm | Dec 29, 2016 |
A bold debut by a talented author. FIRSTS tackles tough subjects and raises important questions. ( )
  jend27 | Nov 12, 2016 |
Reseña pendiente. Pero les puedo ir adelantando: este es el YA que han estado esperando.

Diversidad ✔
Sex positive ✔
Anti slut shaming ✔
Book boyfriend sin una pizca de violencia en su cuerpo ✔
Amistades femeninas que valen la pena✔✔ ( )
  Glire | Jun 22, 2016 |
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For Steve—my last, my only, my everything
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