Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen
Published by HarperTeen on June 17, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars

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.

17 First Kisses was completely not on my radar, until it showed up in a package from HarperCollins, along with something I’d actually requested. I often side-eye these accompanying books, but I am so glad that Allen’s debut novel showed up on my doorstep. I was charmed right from the get go by the setting and the real high school-ness of it. Allen tackles a lot of deep subjects in her debut: family, grief, sex, friendship. Despite that, the novel still is a pleasant read, rather than depressing. It’s a novel that makes you think about the good sides of growing up, of the promise the future holds.

What makes 17 First Kisses really stand out is the attitude towards romance and sex. It’s a very sex positive novel, one that maintains a person needs to have a lot of experiences before settling down. With most YA fiction ending with a couple in an HEA, 17 First Kisses is a breath of fresh air. There’s a ship of sorts, but, though most of the book deals with romantic drama and relationships, it’s not about romance. Allen’s debut really does run through all the boys that the heroine, Claire, has kissed, and ends on the suggestion that many more boys will be kissed before she’s done. THIS is real life for most people, and I love that aspect so, so much.

Allen tackles slut-shaming head on, in a way that will either work for readers or it won’t. It worked for me almost entirely. There’s frank discussion of the gender bias in calling behavior slutty, which I love. Claire has a bad reputation, despite the fact that she’s a virgin. The high school rumor mill is a big part of 17 First Kisses. I like, too, Claire’s consideration on when she wants to have sex. She takes time and considers what’s right for her. The one part that lost me a bit was when Claire wrote on someone else’s car, calling them a slut for hooking up with her boyfriend, even though the girl didn’t cheat on her. The overall message, though, is one of positivity, so I’m able to overlook that as the terminology of high school.

The side plot on Claire’s family is immensely touching. Her mother and father have both disappeared in their grief, in response to a family tragedy. Claire’s mother almost never leaves her bed, hiding within a pile of blankets. The father works long hours and sleeps on the couch or in the study. Neither of them can deal and Claire’s stuck taking care of herself and her younger sister, Libby. Of course, she’s a teen, so it’s also an opportunity to get away with things. That said, Claire very much wants her parents back and works to that end. This plot is very understated and thoughtful.

The friendship drama is where I have some niggling feelings of disappointment. I do really love the relationship between Amberly and Claire, the way Claire is realizing she’s taken Amberly for granted. Claire’s relationship with Megan is more problematic. Both are very supportive of one another when the chips are down and it’s great that Claire doesn’t envy Megan her popularity. However, the two are so terrible to each other over boys and never really deal with that in a healthy way. I do think it’s realistic for high school, but it’s one of those little things that keeps me from a full five star rating. Then there’s the bigger issue, which is Claire’s friendship with Sam. They’ve been friends basically all of their lives and supposedly talk often enough that he comments on how weird it is to not talk every single day, but he’s hardly in the book. It feels like Sam should be much more present in her life than he actually is in the novel.

Finally, I have extra affection for 17 First Kisses for two personal reasons. 1) This book reminds me of She’s the Man. Claire’s a total badass at soccer and, when she gives a boy a bloody nose by accident during a game, she gives him a tampon to soak up the blood. Much laughing commenced from me. 2) Allen’s from Atlanta and the book is set near to me. While Claire and her friends live outside of the city, likely in a place of southern accents (suggested certainly by Claire calling her mother Mama), there are references to places that I know, like the sumptuous bathrooms of The Fox Theater. Atlanta doesn’t come up too often in books and I loved seeing my hometown.

While not an entirely perfect read for me, 17 First Kisses still impressed me mightily and I recommend it to all contemporary YA lovers. It’s thought-provoking, healthy of attitude, and full of believable characters. I will read whatever Allen writes next, without a doubt.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re missing the point. Tanner. Cheated. On me. This whole thing started with him. And the other guys in the band are more than capable of making their own decisions. I didn’t force them to kiss me back. I didn’t force Seth and Tanner to fight. 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 get how screwed up that is?”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Basically, this recounts how I felt about the book for sure after I got to the scene reminiscent of She’s the Man, though I liked it even before that.

gif tampon she's the man
gif i'm so there she's the man

5 responses to “Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen”

  1. I’m so glad you ended up liking this, Christina. I think it might be my favorite book of the year, because I honestly can’t get over how much I love and appreciate it. And the author is a total sweetheart.

    YES TO THE AMBERLY FRIENDSHIP. That was one of my favorite things in the entire novel, because finally, a sexually active minor character whose character is defined by more than their sexual activities. Ugh, amazing.
    Blythe Harris recently posted…I Kissed Him First + INTL GiveawayMy Profile

  2. soma rostam says:

    Hello
    Well this definitely looks like a really great book
    I am a very good fan of contemporaries but only enjoyable ones that don’t make me want to read something else while I’m reading them.
    Thanks for the review
    It rocks
    You reader
    Soma R.
    soma rostam recently posted…ARC Review: Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret StohlMy Profile

  3. I’m not sure if I want to read 17 First Kisses, but now with a whole comparison to She’s the Man, I might have to give it a try. I love that scene from the movie. Actually, I kind of want to watch the movie, now. 🙂
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Book Haul #57My Profile

  4. Katy says:

    This one sounds interesting! I’ve seen some people talking about it but I had no idea what it was about. I kind of thought it was about like 17 random kisses, like that weird video that went around and I couldn’t watch because I can’t handle super awkward situations. But this sounds so much better than that! And I love She’s the Man! The football/sport guys at my school always used tampons for bloody noses so it surprised me when people in movies were weird about it. It would be really cool to see your city in a book! And understated and thoughtful plots, along with sex positive messages sound great, too!
    Katy recently posted…The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith [thoughts]My Profile

  5. fakesteph says:

    A friend just recommended this to me, but my love for She’s the Man may have sealed the deal. I’m going to have to get this. 🙂

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