Thursday, 21 January 2016

Blog Tour: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn - Review and Author Q&A!

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Publishing Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 336 pages
Young Adult Contemporary

The Premise: [taken from the publisher] "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 mother isn't home nearly enough to know about Mercedes' extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious 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" -- I thought it might be better to put the premise from the publisher this time because I tried to phrase the premise myself and I kept writing in spoilers! It is so hard to condense a book like this into a few sentences.

My overall review and thoughts: When I was first approached to participate in the blog tour, I immediately jumped on board when it was mentioned that the book was written in the same vein as Easy A. The premise sounded incredibly interesting but I was a bit apprehensive because when it comes to "firsts" in general, it is such a generic topic that is written about time and time again in young adult contemporary novels. First kiss, falling in love for the first time, having sex for the first time, etc, etc. I was super happy to see and read this refreshing take on things that Flynn offers the readers. To begin with, she speaks about sex quite explicitly in the book, which I find that a lot of YA novels tend to beat around the bush with. Sex is a taboo topic and including sex in a book may push the book more on the New Adult or romance side of things. I found that Flynn overs a very realistic depiction of what it can be like and does not "sugar-coat" things. She also speaks about consent which is incredibly important and that it isn't something that was simply assumed. Mercedes' "system" is definitely flawed, because in a manner of speaking, her sleeping with boys who have girlfriends already, could be considered cheating, but again, it is important to note that sex is an act between two consenting adults, so it gives you a look into the story from both parties. Mercedes also unfortunately has to deal with a few guys that really push boundaries and limits, and really take advantage of her. I'll be honest, I felt sick to my stomach reading some of those scenes and quite angry that I had to put the book down for a bit. But again, this ties into my point of Flynn not sugar-coating the scenarios at all. She offers a really realistic depiction and I think it is important not to "fluff" up first times in general for people. Because sometimes, first times aren't wonderful. It isn't always going to be a reflection of a movie rom-com. Sometimes, it is something completely different.

Although, there are problems with her system, the book's objective isn't to show Mercedes as a negative person, but rather to show and help explain, why she is the way she is. Her perfect "first" time didn't exist and it is more than just that experience that has shaped her character. Her relationship with her mother is also an important part of the book. I've been watching a lot of crime tv shows recently (tangent), and recently in one particular show, it mentioned that even though we try to distinguish ourselves from our parents, we are a product of our environments and our upbringing. Our parents will shape us in one way or another, even if we don't notice it right away. Mercedes calls Kim (her mother), by her first name because she feels that her mother hasn't earned the title of Mom, but towards the end of the text, she realizes she actually has a lot in common with her mother. My only criticism for the text would be that the relationship narrative between Mercedes and her mom wrapped up pretty quickly towards the end, and I would've liked to see more resolution there.

Besides talking about sex and consent in a very unique manner, I also enjoyed the characters that Laurie Flynn created for the readers. Mercedes is incredibly brave, confident, but also vulnerable. I really enjoyed seeing her academic side and that really resonated with me. I also loved Faye and Zach so much, they were wonderful friends and it was so nice to see their relationships blossom with Mercedes. I also really liked the character of Angela and seeing her growth as well. Overall, I think that this was a great YA read, tackling a popular topic of "firsts" but in a super unique way.

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars) 

Author Question and Answer

1. You take a very unique approach to the idea of "firsts" - The usual narrative is how one values their "first" experience or how the experience has shaped them in some way. What made you decide to approach it from a different perspective? I love reading books from the point of view of unlikely characters. It was important to me to tell the other side of the story from the perspective of that girl—the girl who may not get her own story otherwise. There is so much shaming pointed toward girls who have sex, and I wanted to dissect why that happens. With teen girls, there’s so much judgment surrounding not just the first time, but every time after. I wanted to tell a story from a girl who didn’t have a perfect first time, but wants to regain control by giving it to other virgins. I wanted to explore why she does what she does.

2. What is the one central message that you hope your readers walk away with when they finish the text? I hope readers consider that while it’s easy to judge a person, it’s harder to really know them. We all have secrets. Everyone has gone through trials and tribulations in life, and it’s impossible to know everything about someone else—especially someone you know by association or through rumours instead of fact. Mercedes doesn’t trust anyone to know her real self or what has happened in her past, so she only lets people know one particular version of herself. It’s so important to be kind to everyone, because you never know what someone is going through or has been through.

Be sure to check out the final stops on the blog tour tomorrow, and go back and check all the wonderful reviews from the previous stops :) 

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Raincoast Books for participation in the book tour. All opinions of the book are my own. 

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