Saturday, January 07, 2017

Firsts, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Mercedes has decided to pay it forward in an unusual way:  She’s sleeping with guys to give them experience before they have sex with their girlfriends for the first time.  She tells herself that she is doing this in order to make sure that they make their girlfriends’ first time romantic and memorable (since hers was not).  And she sets a limit of how many times she will do it.

But why can’t she stop?  As she starts breaking her own boundaries, she becomes aware that there is much more to this than any sort of justification she can dig up.  And, in any case, the truth has a way of getting out, so – and you can see this plot development from a mile away! – it is only a matter of time before it all blows up.

For what sounds like an exploitative premise, this turned out to be a surprisingly complicated (and even insightful) novel.  It is explicit and frank enough to to make a lot of adults uncomfortable to be sure, but the treatment of sex is honest and authentic.  And it speaks directly to the sexual double standards that girls face (without any attempt to breezily right those wrongs).

The characters are a mixed bag.  I loved Mercedes, who combines vulnerability, honesty, and (eventually) inner strength.  Her friends don’t get the same loving treatment, but they are an important source of support.  The adults are disappointing throwaways, but I understand Flynn’s reluctance in doing anything useful with them.  Still, there is such an opportunity for some elder wisdom to be offered (but instead they remain passive or used as bad examples, leaving the kids pretty much on their own to stumble through).

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