Book Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

firsts book review paper trail diary

Woohoo, this is my first time blogging as part of a blog tour. Appropriate! Thank you to Raincoast Books for letting me tag along. Here you’ll find an honest review of Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, as well as a short Q&A with her.


Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, via St. Martin’s Griffin, out now.

“You brought this on yourself.” “I hope you get herpes.” “We are going to make your life such hell.”

These are the kinds of things said to Mercedes Ayres, a 17-year-old girl who has given herself the job of de-virginizing guys so that they can give their girlfriends a romantic first time, something she never had. She simply wants to help these anxious boys, and her good intentions are her healing from an abusive past, but things get carried away.

Mercedes didn’t expect such a thing would backfire. She figured the guys would never talk because then people would know they weren’t faithful to their girlfriends. Though Mercedes is a very smart and sweet girl, this perception was unfortunately naive. But nobody deserves to be treated the way Mercedes was.

Firsts reminded me a lot about all of the news stories we read about high school girls who have gone through sexual abuse only to have their whole peer group turn their backs on them and everything blown out of proportion, like Reteah Parsons and Amanda Todd. It makes me feel sick thinking about all of that pain and vulnerability. Which is why it is such a good thing that this book exists.

Firsts is unconventional. Yes, it is a bad thing that guys secretly sleep with another girl when they have a girlfriend. Yes, that is cheating (unless the couple agrees otherwise). If my boyfriend did this with another girl, I’d have a lot to think about. (However there are two kinds of guys Mercedes deals with, and one is obviously more preferable in their naiveté.) But Firsts wants you to see the other sides to these stories. Who is the girl? Why is she motivated to do this? Who or what is hurting her? How does she feel? I honestly didn’t even think about the fact that it’s cheating until much later in the book.

Mercedes talks about sex in such a frank way – something I haven’t really read in any YA book yet. Overall, she’s very strong, confident and comfortable with her body. She strategically plans her lingerie to type of guy, narrates what they do and overall just isn’t shocked about sex, partly because of a previous abusive experience and partly because the way she was raised.

I lean over and open my nightstand drawer, where the boxes are piled neatly like little soldiers. Ultra Thin, Ribbed for Her Pleasure, Second Skin, Magnums. I pull out an Ultra Thin. No matter what they think, most guys are Ultra Thins. Just enough for protection, no extra thrills. This fact was drilled into me early. My mom started teaching me about birth control when other moms were still on tampons.

Though to most people she isn’t popular at school, Mercedes has a few supporting characters. There’s her uber-religious best friend Angela, who she would do anything for, Faye, the mysterious new girl who causes Mercedes to question her sexuality, and Zach, the guy who actually likes her for who she is. Faye became the strongest (or maybe just most interesting) supporting character, though I would have loved to see more strength to Angela and Mercedes’ backstory, which is the relationship that’s tested the most throughout the book. Zach’s devotion to Mercedes is both swoon-worthy and sometimes unbelievable, as Mercedes turns him down again and again and again, and I have a hard time thinking a high school guy wouldn’t feel rejected enough to move on after that (but maybe I’m just pessimistic). But he perseveres. As well, Mercedes is always mad at her mom for never trying, though she doesn’t realize that her mom actually is, just not in a way that’s plainly obvious. And finally, there are the scumbag boys at high school, which is all I need to say for now without spoilers.

It’s easy to judge someone like Mercedes if you only see the surface, but Firsts can help us try to understand more. We see how good intentions can be taken advantage of, how friends can stick together and how a teenage girl handles her own life when feeling so alone. Mercedes often questions what she’s doing, and shows a strong interest in moving forward, but she gets stuck, just like everyone. I would have liked to have an insight into how the girls who were ‘cheated’ on felt afterwards – if they were glad their boyfriends seemed experienced for their first time or if they would have rather been bumbly and pure together – but I can see why we wouldn’t get that information, as this is Mercedes’ story.

Firsts brings us a raw representation of what it’s like to be a teenage girl these days. I really liked reading it and think it should be on more people’s to-read lists this year. I think in this day and age, it would be a smart thing for teenagers of any gender to read, almost especially guys, so that they know there are consequences to threatening someone’s life, no matter how hurt they are.


Now, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn answers some questions! Flynn is a Canadian former journalist and model. Firsts is her first book.

As a former journalist myself, I’m curious, how do you think that part of your past prepared you to write fiction? Did you ever write about teen or feminist issues?

That’s such a great question! Although I didn’t tackle any teen or feminist issues during my journalism days—I mostly reported on entertainment or local news—I definitely think I learned some lessons that can be applied to fiction writing. In journalism, you’re encouraged to get the facts across and not insert your own bias. In fiction, I try to let the story unfold through my characters—rather than through my eyes—and make sure that the crux of the story is always in focus. If I feel like I’m wavering, I go back to the hook and remember the story I’m trying to tell. I also think journalism helps me with pacing. It’s always in the back of my head that I only have so much time to capture a reader’s attention, and it’s my goal to keep readers interested enough to keep turning pages!

What advice could you give to teenage girls now about staying true to themselves?

There is so much I wish I could go back and tell my teen self. One major thing I’d tell teenage girls is that a lot of the things you spent time worrying and obsessing right now really won’t be on your mind years later—so no matter what you’re thinking, you haven’t ruined your life at all. Things can seem like such a huge deal at the time—every mistake you make is amplified, every bad decision the worst thing in the world. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re learning who you are. And you are enough.

Also—celebrate what makes you uniquely you. If people don’t like that, don’t think for a second that you need to change. I wasted time feeling ashamed of things I liked because I thought liking them made me a nerd. And guess what? Now I own being a nerd. It’s part of me. I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

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