Tuesday 17 November 2015

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Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth FlynnNetGalleyFirsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (eProof) - Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfils 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 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 own 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.
From Goodreads.

I think we can all agree that Twitter is a wonderful thing. If it wasn't for a retweet of a retweet of a tweet about Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, I wouldn't have heard about the book when I did, I wouldn't have gone to NetGalley to request it, I wouldn't have been accepted, and I wouldn't have reviewed Firsts for Sex in Teen Lit Month II. I'm so glad I did see that twice retweeted tweet, because this book is amazing!

Mercedes has come up with an idea to help the female virgins in her school: she will have sex with their virginal boyfriends and show them exactly what to do and how, and what to say, so that when they have sex with their girlfriends, the girls will get the perfect first time. Not only does she show them what to do during the act of having sex, but she helps them plan the perfect night leading up to it. All she asks is that they keep it to themselves, unless there's another virgin who needs her help. The guys are so grateful that someone will show them how, someone who has no expectations of them, they're practically queueing up to learn from her. But the number of virgins is racking up, though, to more than Mercedes expected, and she's starting to have trouble justifying her good-deeds. Who is she doing this for? How is she going to deal with her best friend's boyfriend, Charlie, wanting a go? And why is she so put off by the idea of something more than sex from Zach, her Wednesday hook-up lunch date?

This book! Oh my god, I can't tell you how  good this is! When I first read the description of the book, I couldn't really understand how Mercedes could believe what she was doing was a good idea: she's sleeping with other girls' boyfriends! This is not on! But when reading the book, you can really understand her motivation. Her own first time was as awful as it could be, and she just wants to make sure other girls have a better memory than she does. At first, she truly believes that she's doing something good. She feels good about herself afterwards, because she's helping people out; she knows these girls are going to have as good an experience as possible, because of her advice. She likes that she's able to help them. But at the same time, as you're reading you're still thinking, "Ok, Mercedes, I get where you're coming from... but this is not ok. You can't have sex with other people's boyfriends, no matter what your intentions! This is all going to backfire on you!"

The thing is, Mercedes has her issues. There is the experience of her own first time, which we're not told much about for most of the story. There are subtle hints here and there about what happened, but not enough to be sure. I had several theories that I would go back and forth on, one of which was the correct one, but by the time I twigged that was definitely what happened before it's outright said, I had already settled on another theory. Then there's her relationship with her mother, who is constantly chasing youth and the next man. Kim is all about botox, dieting, dressing for men, and she's hardly ever around. I could understand Mercedes dislike of her, but I think there was a lack of communication going on. Kim is clueless, and gives Mercedes all the wrong advice, but I did feel like she actually cared, even if she was misguided about what was right for Mercedes, which in her opinion had to do with guys. When Kim does realise that Mercedes is having different guys over, she almost seems to approve, which is the opposite of what Mercedes wants from her mother. Because of all her issues, Mercedes just wants to control her life.

Which is part of the reason she keeps pushing Zach away. Oh, Zach! He was just the nicest, sweetest guy, and he's so into Mercedes, but she keeps pushing her way. She is only interested in his body, and doesn't like him touching her during the act in any way that is to personal or intimate. She must have control of this area. She cannot be with Zach, or anyone else. She is not going to have some walk out on her again. This way, she calls the shots, she has the power, she is in control. Just the way she likes it.

But when new girl Faye starts school, who is drop dead gorgeous, and so wants to be Mercedes friend, Mercedes has a problem. Because now Zach is looking at Faye the way he used to look at her. And she does not like it one bit. She doesn't want him, but no-one else can have him either. And Faye... she tries so hard to make friends with Mercedes, but she's just not having any of it for a good while. Another person who wants to be let in. She just doesn't have the mental space for either of them. It's almost like she can't afford to care. But things start happening that give Mercedes cause to pause; although Faye enjoys Zach's attention and seems to be interested too, she's also flirting with Mercedes. Or is she? What's with all the touching? And what's with getting so close? And why is Mercedes not sure whether she wants Faye to step back or get closer? This is a really interesting part of the story, because for a lot of it, I had no idea where it was going to go. Is Mercedes bi, maybe? Or perhaps she's just questioning because it's new, and she's never had a girl seem to take interest in her? Will it be Faye? Will it be Zach? Will it be someone else entirely? Will it be no-one? I HAD NO CLUE! And I seriously loved it! It's a real treat when you're reading a book and you really have no real theories of what's lying ahead. It was the same with Mercedes' own experience of losing her virginity, I just wasn't sure what would turn out actually happened. And it was so refreshing to be guessing the whole time! That's the norm for mysteries, not for contemporaries/romances! This story is so unpredictable, it's wonderful!

There's more I could talk about in regards to the plot, but I'm worried about spoiling things, and this review is also quite long, and I really want to talk about the sexual aspect of the story, now. It was never graphic; some things are described, but not in huge detail, and most of the time it felt so clinical. Mercedes sleeping with these virgins was not about her own sexual pleasure. For most of the guys, she didn't get any pleasure from it at all, it was about giving pointers. Zach is the only person to have got her off, as she puts it, which is probably half the reason she keeps having sex with him; this time it's about pleasure and control. But even in the few sex scenes with Zach, it still feels kind of clinical, and I think that's because emotionally, Mercedes is just not there. It feels different from other books with no-strings sex, and I think this is to do with Mercedes issues. It's not just about purely physical pleasure, it's about control, and I think she gets more from the control aspect of sex than she does from Zach making her feel good. When things between them get difficult later, and Zach actually wants to talk to her and have conversations about things, Mercedes response is to try to turn him on and get him to have sex with her. She can't do real talk. Sex is what she understands, sex is where she has the power.

This book also had some really interesting to say about virginity. Mercedes talks about how for girls, it's expected that their first time is meant to be this important thing they give to someone when they feel ready, after conversations with friends and she's finally comfortable to do so, but for guys, they're expected to always be ready, and know what they're doing, and make sure they're gentle and give their girlfriends a magical experience, when that's just not going to happen because they're also scared.

There was one small thing I had an issue with though; Mercedes is with one of the virgins and she's straddling him while topless when she asks what he would say to his girlfriend in this position, and he responds that he would tell her she's beautiful, and ask if he could touch her boobs. Mercedes tells him that he should always tell her she's beautiful, but he should never ask to do something. Instead, he should be bold, because confidence should be faked until he is confident. But this set off alarms for me; of course he should ask! Consent is required! I think it's really crappy advice, and it's better to ask maybe a couple of times - not necessarily if he's allowed, but if she's wants him to. "Is this ok? Are you happy for us to go further?" - asking that would be awesome, and you know, would not only make her feel more at ease with saying "no" if that's the case, but also prevent sexual assault. Just because she said yes at the start, doesn't mean it's yes the whole way through, or that she won't change her mind. "Never ask" is just so wrong. And I seriously cannot believe how Mercedes would think asking permission to go forward, asking if she's comfortable, would be a bad thing. Not only do I think it's wrong, but I don't think it's true to the character, either.

But overall, Firsts is a really awesome book, and a fantastic debut novel! I'm really excited to see what the rest of you think when it's released in January. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Flynn writes in future!

Thank you to St. Martin's Griffin via NetGalley for the eProof.

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Published: 5th January 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn's Website


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