Book Review: 17 First Kisses

17 First Kisses
Published By: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Page Count: 352
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary

I think the title of this one is slightly misleading. I was expecting a light and fluffy romance, but I was shocked to find that this story was a lot deeper than that. Yes, there is romance in this novel, but that isn't truly the focus - in spite of the title. 17 First Kisses is really the story of one girl from a small Georgia town who is trying to navigate the currents of high school and to find out what sort of person she wants to be. Novels often claim to be "coming of age" stories, but this one truly delivers on that front. While reading this novel, I watched Claire come of age before my eyes and I'm confident that she will become an amazing adult. I was also interested to see that this didn't have the light, fluffy feel to it all. The author chooses to focus on some pretty dark topics such as bullying, abuse in relationships, grief, and gender stereotypes.

One thing that really strikes me about this novel is my feelings about Claire, the main character. There were moments I loved her and moments that I couldn't stand her. She would be an amazing friend in one segment and then do something horrible to someone she cared about in the next. There were actually moments I thought about walking away from this one because of her attitude and her willingness to let others define her. As the novel progressed, I soon began to understand why Claire acts the way she does; I still didn't like those moments when Claire's selfishness reared its ugly head, but at least I understood her better. By the end of this one, I found myself wishing that the story had a few more chapters. I don't feel closure with the story and I ended up liking her more than I ever though possible considering my initial reaction. This is one novel that fully illustrates character growth. I also liked how each of Claire's kisses leads her to a life lesson.

At its core, this is a novel about friendship. Claire's friendships help guide her and define her. Readers see her childhood friendship with a member of the opposite sex, Sam, evolve. Readers also see the friendship Claire has with her sisters. But most importantly, readers get a front row seat to the tumultuous friendship between Claire and Megan. These two have moments when I was wowed by their loyalty and commitment, but there were also numerous moments that made me cringe. Friendships, like so many other things in our teen years, experience growing pains. Change isn't easy and relationships must evolve or dissolve. It was interesting to watch the various phases in Claire and Megan's friendship unfold. In addition, I found the friendship between Claire and Amberly to also be interesting.

My favorite friendship in the novel was the one between Claire and Sam. I loved watching them both grow throughout the story and the penultimate chapter was probably my favorite one in the whole book. Their relationship was not as predictable as I originally thought. I think there is more story here to be told.

In spite of how much I enjoyed Claire's journey, I did find myself irked with some elements of this novel. First, I felt like the females in the novel were judged harshly by other girls. This whole mean girl mentality is realistic, but it always makes my blood boil. I don't like double standards and there were instances when this become a dominant theme; I feel it was the author's intention to call attention to this issue. Claire even says at one point, "You guys act like it's okay to heap all the blame on the girl but let the guys off with a free pass. Don't you see how screwed up that is?" (Kindle Location 2702) I fully agree with Claire's sentiment and hope more females are angry and frustrated by these scenes in the novel.

Second, I was a little shocked by the intimate details. This is certainly not a novel for younger teens. I'm not a prude in my reading by any means, but I just wasn't expecting some of the more r-rated moments and discussions. I also wasn't a fan of the blase attitude toward teen drinking. Again, I know both of these elements are realistic for some teens, but there were a few moments I felt were over the top.

Overall, I really enjoyed the time I spent with Claire. 17 First Kisses has layers of complexity that were unexpected and thought provoking. This is the sort of novel that truly makes you consider how each choice you make in life has a specific outcome. Those choices and outcomes shape us into individuals. I hope at the end of the day, I can always face my choices with no regrets.

One Last Gripe: I really loved Sam and wish that he hadn't been delegated to the sidelines. I liked the moments when he was front and center.

My Favorite Things About This Book: I loved the Georgia setting and the focus on various forms of friendship

First Sentence: Finding a guy to kiss in this town is next to impossible.

Favorite Character: Sam

Least Favorite Character: I originally was going to say Megan because I felt like she was a horrible friend for a majority of the novel, but she did have redeemable moments. I suppose I'll go with Britney because I can't find anything positive to say or think about her.

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.