Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen

Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachel Allen
Release date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
Series: No
Source: ARC via Edelweiss
Length: 352 pages
Rating: Surprisingly delightful, though flawed


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.

I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. Contemporary, for me, is very hit or miss, but the common denominator in all my favorite contemps is definitely voice. And that was the element in 17 First Kisses that really, truly earned my love: the fact that Claire's voice is funny and touching as all hell. While this was by no means a perfect read for me,  the likes definitely outweighed the dislikes, and I ultimately really enjoyed myself.
I liked: Claire/CJ and her voice. Oh my GOD, do I love this girl. Like I said, she's hysterical, but also intensely relatable. She grew up a total soccer-playing tomboy, friends with boys (like former fat kid Sam) and unfamiliar with all thing stereotypically feminine, much to her mother's horror. But then, in junior high, she became best friends with the super popular Megan, who helped transform her from CJ the jock into Claire the girly-girl (who still plays soccer). Claire feels strangely divided and unsure who she really is, and while she and Megan clearly love each other, there is also a VERY strong element of unhealthy competition in their friendship.

But yeah. CLAIRE. THIS GIRL. I adore her utterly, and I did from the moment she got all Viola Hastings and shoved a tampon up the nose of the new-hot-guy-in-town after an unfortunate flirting-while-playing-soccer-with-elbows situation.

I didn't like: the slut-shaming. Allen handles it in a pretty interesting way, and I liked the lessons that came out of it and the way CJ deals when essentially the entire student body begins to slut-shame her. But there were also some incidents of CJ herself slut-shaming a bit, and utlimately tese aspects of the plot only served to churn my stomach. Claire definitely grew from them, but they didn't make for very pleasant reading experiences.

I liked: the 17 first kiss stories/mini vignettes. AMAZING. Every few chapters, we're treated to little flashbacks to all of Claire's kisses. What's so gorgeous about these is that the kisses really are all about Claire and her growth and her character. Each kiss story reveals more about her. I wish she'd had 1700 first kisses so I could just keep reading more of these little slivers of her past. So phenomenally done.

I didn't like: Megan. Obviously you're not meant to love most of the things Megan does, but at certain times I wasn't moved by Allen's execution of her character. Sometimes she felt too evil, or not well-rounded enough, but I guess most of the point of this book is how flawed characters are, especially teenagers who are trying to figure themselves out. This book definitely got that aspect down, which isn't always super enjoyable to read, but is certainly honest.

I liked: Claire's family. Oh, this storyline is so beautiful done and pretty darn heartbreaking. Claire's formerly active Southern mama has been replaced by a depression-crippled ghost. Claire is fighting so hard to be just like her girly older sister to please her mother, her younger sister desperately misses the mother she used to have, and everything is falling to pieces. It huuuuurts, but it hurts so gooood. It was this aspect, and Claire, that totally convinced me I had to read whatever Rachael Allen writes next.

Mixed bag: The boys. You would think that, from the title, this book would be ALL ABOUT DA SHIPS, but it's actually not. And for once, I was okay with that (though obviously there is still A SHIP and it's IMPORTANT). I like that Claire made boy-related mistakes and poor decisions, and what I loved even more is that she learned from them. The ending might have made me whisper-shout, "Noooooooo," on a crowded plane, but it was also such a mature and wise and hopeful and gorgeous ending that I can't even be mad at it. Also I don't want to say too much specifically about the boy-related stuffs because it's spoilery, but know that I want to throw very sharp cleats at one of the boys' head, and the other one I want to hug very tightly all day long.

Despite my sometimes conflicting thoughts, I definitely think you should check out 17 First Kisses. Claire is just the sort of contemporary narrative who burrows her way into my heart and stays there by being equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.


  1. I get what you mean about the slut shaming. For me it enhanced everything, but I can see how it took away from your experience in the moment. I guessed ahead of time that it was heading in that direction though, so I didn't let it bother me or else I think it might have.

    I didn't like present-Megan, but I liked past-Megan a lot, which I thought really added to her character in both timelines.


    The family aspects in this are honestly some of the best I've ever seen in YA.

  2. GAH I mean I want to read this because it looks cute but there are so many meh meh meh thoughts it that I"m not sure. Anyway, I'll probs read it just to see what it's about for myself. I must know!


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