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.
This book certainly has an unusual premise, and one that some people may find distasteful, but I feel that the author handled it with aplomb. ‘Firsts’ treats sex with refreshing honesty, and includes some of the awkward situations that occur. It also incorporates the different reasons why people do or don’t do it – whether for enjoyment, as the next step in a relationship, or waiting for marriage, etc – without shaming one or the other option. Finally, it tackles the misconception that boys are just supposed to magically know what they’re doing when it comes to doing the deed, when it reality, they can be and are just as nervous as girls, and the knowledge they have probably comes from porn, which is like the worst source of information ever.
While many people would look down on Mercedes for her decisions, you can see that her heart is in the right place. (For the record, it’s not the sex I have a problem with, it’s the cheating. On the part of the dudes, not her.) And once you find out more of her back story, you can see how her choices are a method of taking back control over her body. And I liked Mercy as a character. She knows where she’s going, she’s just trying to get through high school and head on out of there, and most of the time, she really doesn’t have ill-intentions towards people. But she struggles to let people get to know her, and weaves a rather convoluted web of deceit which eventually falls apart, hurting many people in the process.
What I hated, although it’s unfortunately true to life, is the girl on girl hate. The boys get off (BAD PUN ALERT) mostly scott-free, but the ire and revulsion that Mercedes is subject to made my stomach roil. Seriously, it’s the kind of thing that would have made me consider suicide at school. It’s the kind of thing that DOES lead to kids killing themselves.
The book also made clear the entitlement some boys feel towards girls bodies, an aspect of rape culture that is incredibly troubling. I feel like a broken record here, but just because a girl sleeps with X number of people, in no way obliges her to do the same with you.
The support from Mercy’s friends Faye and Zach is just fantastic. Faye especially. She is just a rock, albeit one who makes a very dramatic and exceedingly questionable decision to try take the heat off Mercy. And Zach is a sweetheart, who, while rather persistent, does back away and give Mercy her space when she demands it. Which I think is important in the context of her history – respecting boundaries.
All in all, a rather original take on the high-school jungle of sweaty teenage relationships, with plenty of heart. (Among other body parts. He he.)
ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.