17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen (twitter | website)
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Harper Teen
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: best friendships, dating and kissing, depression
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Netgalley. (Thank you!)
Summary: With a ton of responsibility weighing on her shoulders because of a depressing family situation, Claire turns to her best friend Megan for support. When new-boy Luke enters the picture, he threatens to rip Megan and Claire’s friendship apart by forcing the girls to choose friendship or love.
Note: 17 First Kisses is full of complicated, messy relationships, mistakes, and heartbreak. With so many thoughts running through my mind after finishing, I decided I needed to break this down Estelle-style and do a “Why in 5” post.
1. The beauty of 17 First Kisses is that it’s focused on things that are so realistic and hones in on the complexity of relationships and life. Claire’s home life is less than desirable; her family went through a situation that was new to me in the YA world. It’s left her mother severely can’t-get-out-of-bed depressed and her father has also checked out and disengaged. Claire becomes the glue that holds everything together, but ultimately this means she’s the third parent in her family. That’s a lot of responsibility for her to carry.
2. Without the support of her best friend, Megan, Claire would be treading through her difficult home life all alone. Megan is the person Claire turns to when she needs someone to talk to. The friendships felt extremely authentic. (Even the supporting friendship between Megan and her childhood friend, Sam, who was a nice balance to the catty situations the girls sometimes wound up in. He was calm, steady, and level-headed throughout.) Megan and Claire both screw up. They’re both responsible for hurting one another. In terms of teenage decisions, I felt they were spot on — they’re sometimes too selfish and don’t think things through, but ultimately, I was pleased that their friendship always, always pulled them back together (even after the worst of situations). What two friends have never suffered from saying or doing something awful that hurt?
3. Speaking of hurt, let’s just cut right to the chase and talk about boy trouble. Luke enters the picture as someone new, charming, and automatically draws the attention of both Claire and Megan. His interests perfectly parallel Claire’s, but Megan is the striking, gorgeous, popular girl all the guys fawn over. Though the girls make a pact to stay away from him, he’s persuasive and… how could they stay away?
4. I admit that when I learned we were going to learn about all of Claire’s 17 kisses, it seemed like she’d done an awful lot of kissing. Allen, however, uses a great storytelling tactic and progressively pieces everything together with flashbacks to those middle school spin-the-bottle days. It just worked. Now, I’m not condoning that all of Claire’s kisses were worthwhile (ahem, the band members), but every flashback gives us the opportunity to learn more about Megan and Claire’s friendship, family life, and really gives us the full picture.
5. The ending wasn’t tied in a perfect bow. There’s room left for interpretation and growth and the more time I spend away from 17 First Kisses after finishing, I realize this is exactly what Claire needed. After all the drama and change that occurs throughout the course of the book, she needs some time to heal, become her own person, and not have everything figured out as she leaves for college.
Final thoughts: I’ve seen a few negative reviews for this book, but felt so intrigued by the story as I was reading it. Don’t be deterred by the sometimes messy friendship or the bad decisions the characters make. To me, they were realistic depictions of everyday life. Things aren’t always so perfect, and I was so glad to have felt differently than the reviews I read prior to beginning the book.