I have ummed and aaghed over what to rate this book. Thought about it, discussed it, and rolled it around in my head. I usually read to observe, but this book pushed buttons. Big ones: ones that needed some self-reflection.
I wanted to reserve judgment. I got judge-y. I checked myself. I cringed and begged the main female protagonist not to do stuff. I felt heartbroken and outraged.
It's the reason why I give this book five stars: it raises important subjects about attitudes towards sex and gender, the dichotomy of virgin and whore, and slut shaming. Subjects that need to be scrutinised and analysed, ones that contribute to rape culture where sexually active young women feel the brunt within and between.
The story centres around Mercedes Ayres, in public a talented student, member of a prayer group, but in private, the girl who takes the virginity of boys (Firsts).
Mercedes actually views this as a community service. Removing the boys of their virginity, so they can give their girlfriends a good first time: one that Mercedes did not get.
The liaisons are on the condition of anonymity, but lascivious secrets, especially in societies where sexual encounters are loaded, have a way of getting out.
There are a lot of layers to this book: how mothers role model to daughters, the issues of consent and coercion. The pressure on young men to conform to particular masculine stereotypes and tropes, as well as being sexually proficient when they, themselves, are still negotiating this terrain.
This is a fascinating tale. At times, it made me squeamish. If you like having your buttons pushed, your boundaries tested, and thinking about what is behind the facade, I highly recommend this work.