Jeanne's Reviews > Firsts

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
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it was ok
bookshelves: problematic-shit, racist-stereotypes, slut-shaming, tw-rape

Trigger Warnings: This book contains 2 rape scenes (coerced consent) and one attempted rape that involves a violent physical assault. The main character makes a bulimia joke, at the expense of her mothers in a scene that trivializes eating disorders. Consent is completely misrepresented, twice the main character explicitly tells boys to ignore consent. Physical assault :the main character slaps a boy in the face, but dismisses it as okay because “he likes it when I’m rough.”

The Trouble with the Fallen Woman Archetype

One of the biggest flaw of the redemption story for a sexually active girl is the assumption she’s done something wrong.

Firsts makes a lot of promises that I truly believe it could have delivered on if it had gone through a few more revision. The potential is there, littered through out the narrative like loose threads left dangling. This could have been a sex positive and subversive exploration of the social construct of virginity, but instead it’s just another story of a Fallen Woman. This time with a “Happily Ever After” tacked on at the end.

There are a lot of issues I ran into in the story, I want to try to at least touch on most of them to both explain my reaction to the book and to explore the common problem that I keep seeing in how we view sexually active women in stories. Because much of what bothered me is very common in many genres of literature, and media in general.

I want to be very clear, I am not holding Firsts solely responsible to fixed these issues in media. If anything I want to address how much of what is in this book is a reaction to those tropes and cliches. So we can kind of see how we got here in the first place, and why this book can seem progressive while being the complete opposite.

I can understand why this books is so appealing. There’s a certain kind of Schadenfreude and catharsis that comes from Fallen Women stories. Where we both get to live vicariously through a characters' sexual exploits, but also get to watch their inevitable fall from grace in all it's graphic and horrific glory. There's a ugly sense of "satisfaction" that a lot of people feel when they see a woman, who gets away with things other women don't get to experience, finally gets caught and subsequently punished. Most people won't admit to enjoying this, but it's huge fixture of these kinds of stories and I suspect a big part of their appeal.

As author Tiffany Reisz says, erotica is much closer to Horror than Romance. The fear, intensity, and titillation are key themes in Erotica, Horror, and Tragedies. While First isn’t technically in these genres, it’s pulling from all of them in it’s use of the Fallen Woman archetype and resembles them far more closely that Romance. From The Scarlet Letter to Cruel Intentions (Les Liaisons dangereuses), the central focus of the Fallen Woman story is the fear of discovery that builds tension, the climatic exposure, shame/public humiliation, and sometime the redemption of forgiveness.

The central themes of a Fallen Woman story are fear, shame, and forgiveness, not love or empowerment. Also common themes are rape, slut shaming, and repentance. Over hundreds of years these constants of the Fallen Woman trope haven’t change, and all are present in Firsts. Though in this version the Fallen Girl is given a happy ending, but that doesn’t change the fact that the story depends heavily on her fear and pain for dramatic tension and her humiliation for the climax of the story. So it isn’t really subverting the anything. Especially since the Mercedes redemption relies upon a boy to forgive and love her to make her worthy again.

Review Proper [Spoilers Abound]
(view spoiler) Forced and sloppy summarizes my overall criticism of the book. It really feels like a first draft. Full of potential, but badly in need of several sets of eyes and more redrafting to refine the story. Oh how I wish I could read that story.

Though part of me really wonders if you can really subvert slut shaming with a Fallen Woman story at all. The optimistic side of me says yes. I see so much potential in this book it makes me believe this can be done. It just takes peeling back the layers and exploring the motivations of characters past our cliche prejudiced assumptions, especially in regards to women.

For example: Maybe the girls have such high expectations around losing their virginity because in some way they can sense it’s one of the few ways in which girls are valued in our culture.

Maybe if Mercedes relationship with her father was explored more. If we knew what is was like prior to or even knew how old she was when he left. Maybe we could explore how such a huge loss not only impacts Mercedes but her mother too. I mean the man named his daughter after a car. He treated them both the women in his like like objects and discard them when they became too much a burden. How about how her father leaving marked this loss of innocence as much as her loss of virginity did? (view spoiler)And how Kim’s insistence on sexualizing her daughter is a misguided attempt to give her daughter value denied to her by her ex-husband.

Kim and Mercedes are both products of a world that values women as object, whether they are virgins or sluts, based solely on their sexual availability to men. Mercedes thought she could game the system by taking control over other girls first time in order erase the trauma of her own. Much like Kim hurts Mercedes as she tries to repair her broken marriage by trying live vicariously through her daughter. Mercedes controls other girls and ultimately hurts them and herself by acting exactly like her mother.

But neither Mercedes or her mother created this never ending cycle. They are just continuing it. The fault doesn’t lie on them. I'm tired of books that only address the symptoms and not the actual problem. Which is the case with Firsts.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 15, 2015 – Shelved
October 15, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
October 15, 2015 – Shelved as: problematic-shit
October 15, 2015 – Shelved as: racist-stereotypes
October 15, 2015 – Shelved as: slut-shaming
October 15, 2015 – Shelved as: tw-rape
October 15, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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norcalgal Brilliant summary of a deeply flawed novel that introduces Big Issues (rape, self-loathing that leads to destructive behavior, criminal dissemination of concealed videotaping, etc.) but treats themes shallowly or not at all. Too bad. The author had the germ of a classic but ended up giving us a depressing long-form Penthouse letter.

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