Mercedes Ayres has dedicated her senior year to not only maintaining her exemplary grades, but also to helping people out. In her spare time she tutors other students in her specialist subject, chemistry, and also de-virginises guys and teaches them the finer arts of pleasing a girl so that their first times with their girlfriends is slightly less elbowy and awkward than they would otherwise be.
Yeah, she shags virgins. As, like, charity work.
Considering she spends her spare time having sex with other girls’ boyfriends, I found that I actually really liked Mercedes. Her intentions were in the right place - she herself had a pretty crappy (and by crappy I mean rapey) first time and she wanted to make other girls’ first times a bit less rubbish. Obviously I had problems with a character who would have sex with someone else’s boyfriend, whatever way you dress it up, it’s not a nice thing to do, but I found her good points - her loyalty to her friends, her funny, spikey narrative - outweighed the bad.
I did find her a bit naive in her assumption that she had a foolproof plan as far as her de-virginising scheme was concerned. I could see how, theoretically, it should have worked, but come on. To expect seventeen-year-old boys (or girls) not to talk about the sex they’ve been having is, yeah, a bit naive. So I really don’t think I’m pulling a spoiler when I say that inevitably the whole school finds out what she’s been up to and the shit hits the fan. Out of the wreckage Mercedes has to try and salvage something of her life and she ends up doing it bravely and with some grace, so I was pleased with the ending we were given.
The rest of the characters were a mixed bag. I loved Faye - she was like a breath of fresh air with her blunt, open attitude to sex - and Zach was just gorgeous. Charlie The Sociopath was a proper villain and her best friend Angela was sweet, but slightly irritating. I have very little patience with characters as prissy as she is, who hold sex up like it’s something to be feared instead of enjoyed. And of course there was the inevitable slut-shaming from the rest of the student body when Mercedes’ secret is discovered.
This book also has a first for me - the first time I’ve ever seen the c-word used in a YA book. I mean, the author is pushing the envelope with the subject matter she’s chosen, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was still a ‘Whoa!’ moment. I don’t get offended by swearing - even by the c-word although, like celery salt, I do use it sparingly - and the context it was used in and the character who uses it were both spot-on.
I have to applaud the author for writing about sex in such an open way and for giving Mercedes a happy ending. Sex in YA fiction is so often shrouded in euphemism and vaguery and it’s a shame because it makes sex seem like something to be ashamed of which, as long as it’s safe and between consenting partners, it’s not. I’m definitely going to be recommending this book!
I was given a copy of Firsts in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley