My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
True rating: 3.5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Going by the description alone, I honestly would have written it off, but the other reviews made it seem so compelling, I thought I would try it out.
First off, despite the subject matter, this is not a graphic book. Mercedes, the main character, does have sex several times during the course of the story, but those scenes do not really go into detail about what is happening physically. The discussions about sex are a little vulgar at times, but it’s realistic. I would say this is appropriate for someone sixteen or older, if you’re worried about your high schooler reading it.
I loved that this book humanizes people who make choices that most people would be inclined to judge. What Mercedes does–have sex with other people’s boyfriends–is appalling, and nothing changes that. But when you get farther into the story, you begin to understand why she’s so drawn to the idea. As much as she says its for other girls, so they will have a better first time than she did, it’s really for herself. She’s chasing after a phantom first time that she will never be able to get back. Mercedes is a victim of every single person who matters in her life, in some way or another, and she’s trying to hide from the reality of that and the help she needs with the one thing she knows will make her feel better.
Ms. Flynn did an excellent job of conveying the point that while we shouldn’t exert judgment on a person’s soul based on their sexual activity, there is a definite right and wrong way to use sex. I don’t think that we’re ever supposed to think Mercedes is doing the right thing. Honestly, for most of the book, I just pitied her. I also appreciated the respectful tones aimed toward Mercedes’ best friend Angela, who is saving herself for marriage. Abstinence, especially when imposed for religious reasons, is rarely regarded as a legitimate choice in secular YA lit, so I was impressed by that.
The 1.5 stars deducted here are mainly because I grew so sick of everyone in this book blaming someone else for their own wrongdoings. Obviously, as in Mercedes’ case, that assertion can be true to a point. But the bad things that happened to her in the past didn’t force her to start her campaign with the virgins. The bad things that happened to Kim in the past didn’t force her to be a negligent mother. There comes a point where you are responsible for the choices you make, and while I think Mercedes comes to understand that at the end, the process from the reader’s perspective was laborious.
(SPOILER) Also, I didn’t really buy Charlie morphing into some kind of evil psychopath. I’m not sure that many eighteen year old boys would go through the pretense of a false engagement just to convince a girl to sleep with him. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just break up with her and find someone else who was interested in being physical. (SPOILER)
Overall, this was a well-written, fast-paced read that kept me interested and prompted some introspective moments. I wish the role of the antagonist had been handled differently, though. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Ms. Flynn in the future.