17 First Kisses
by Rachael Allen
Released on: June 17th, 2014
Published by: HarperTeen
Rating: 5 stars
Word rating: !!!!!!
Reviewed by: Blythe
No matter how many boys Claire kisses, she can’t seem to find a decent boyfriend. Someone who wouldn’t rather date her gorgeous best friend, Megan. Someone who won’t freak out when he learns about the tragedy her family still hasn’t recovered from. Someone whose kisses can carry her away from her backwoods town for one fleeting moment.
Until Claire meets Luke.
But Megan is falling for Luke, too, and if there’s one thing Claire knows for sure, it’s that Megan’s pretty much irresistible.
With true love and best friendship on the line, Claire suddenly has everything to lose. And what she learns—about her crush, her friends, and most of all herself—makes the choices even harder.
In her moving debut, Rachael Allen brilliantly captures the complexities of friendship, the struggles of self-discovery, and the difficulties of trying to find love in high school. Fans of Sarah Ockler, Susane Colasanti, and Stephanie Perkins will fall head over heels for this addictive, heartfelt, and often hilarious modern love story.
This book is such an underrated, amazing little gem, you guys. And such a surprise, too: I went into this expecting a cute romance, and what I got instead was something so much more than that. It has its cute moments, but, as opposed to the romance, the main focuses in 17 First Kisses are friendship and family (despite what the title may lead you to believe). With it, Rachael Allen takes contemporary romance tropes and puts an innovative spin on them, providing readers with something fantastic, clever, and refreshing.
I think this is going to be a pretty controversial book when it's released; I can see right now that it already kind of is, and I totally understand how it's a love-it-or-hate-it book. The characters aren't always likable; their motives aren't always clear; and their decisions aren't always the best. However, in any other author's hands, I think this probably would have been a disaster as opposed to the brilliant character and relationship study it is. Yes, the characters in 17 First Kisses are very flawed, and so are the relationships, but all of this just makes those characters and their relationships so much stronger and realistic.
Undoubtedly, my favorite thing about 17 First Kisses is the heavy focus on family and friendship. As opposed to focusing on romance, the titular 17 first kisses are told through a series of vignettes that establish Claire's character, her relationship with her best friend Megan, and her home life. It's one of the more unique and clever methods of character development I've come across in YA, and I couldn't have loved how it was dealt with more. Through the vignettes, which take place primarily in the past, we're given answers piece by piece to what is hinted at in the present-chapters, leading to each deftly written emotional bombshell.
Although there is a large heaping of slut-shaming present in 17 First Kisses, the story called for it at times to make certain points and it felt somewhat appropriate given the context; but of course, a trigger warning for those who can't stand slut-shaming under any circumstances, because it is somewhat heavy in here. I only take issue with slut-shaming when it's unnecessary and goes unchallenged, which is why I almost appreciate it in 17 First Kisses. Aside from the slut-shaming, the topic of sex is handled amazingly in here, and it's one of the most honest and refreshing portrayals of sex amongst teenagers I've seen in a while. 17 First Kisses features sexually active characters who own it like a boss and, for once, aren't made out to be antagonists. Although some characters are partially defined by their sexual activity, that's not all there is to them: even the minor characters are fleshed out and given depth, and are more than vapid, sex-crazed sluts as I'm afraid many other novels would have depicted them. Moreover, this is one of the only novels in which I've seen sex acts other than kissing and full-blown (kind of pun?) sex being taken into consideration. It seems many authors are afraid to trespass into the in-between zone of kissing and sex, but Allen tackles that with the honesty the topic rightly deserves and makes it a nonissue, which it totally is.
17 First Kisses is a daring and surprising read with heart to spare, and it's one of my absolute favorites of 2014 by far. It's not afraid get dark, gritty, and sad, but also have all of that alongside cuteness, and the balance between the gritty and cute was refreshing and impacting. With wit and snark that could be likened to an edgier Kasie West, authentic characters, and moving relationships, 17 First Kisses is a book that should at the very least be on everyone's on everyone's radar; it’s an emotional trip and a charming joyride all at once, and a wonderful debut from a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.