17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen | Rating: ★★★★☆ | Release: June 17th 2014
"But we never had the kind of relationship where I talked to her about serious stuff. And we don’t live in the kind of house where you yell and cry about your problems in the open.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s part of the reason she’s like this. She kept her feelings hidden, and they ate her from the inside out.”
On first inspection, I had assumed that this novel would be something of a cutesy romance and tales of friendships coming to an end because of a romance. But as I dived further into 17 First Kisses it became more and more obvious that the time wasn’t bringing much in terms of justice to the story — don’t get me wrong, though. 17 First Kisses does have the makings of a YA romance and the title is relevant to some of the plot.
There is, however, more to the story than what initially meets the eye. And that’s what I loved most about it: it had the romance you’d expect, a little drama here and there; but the end product isn’t what I expected. Isn’t that what makes novels good at the end of the day?
17 First Kisses starts with an introduction, briefly, to the friendship between Claire and Megan. It’s light, it’s funny and it’s totally the sort of antics you’d expect from two teenage girls. You see right away that these two have a genuine friendship — in spite of flaws — and have a great time together. In my opinion, I spotted many similarities between the relationships of Claire/Megan and Blair/Serena from the Gossip Girl novels when you compare them. It’s very parallel in terms of the bond that they hold.
The similarities are obvious but that doesn’t mean they are identical at all. And when the new boy, Luke, comes into the picture and the girls begin to try for his attention, things grow a little messy and definitely give me a vibe of the Serena/Nate/Blair love triangle at first.
We meet several characters throughout the story — our most important players in the story besides those listed above. We have Sam, one of Claire’s closest and oldest friends who has gone through a drastic physical change in recent years. Scenes between him and Claire are some of my favorites in the novel. Britney and Amberly, the two that complete the group of girls that Claire and Megan are friends with. Britney seems to be the stereotypical mean girl out the group; most of the time has an icy way of speaking to Claire and didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies from the start. And then there’s Amberly, who is one of the nicest and funnest characters you come across in the novel.
Personally, I would love to see a story from Amberly’s point of view in the future.
In between chapters, we get an idea of the past: a look into the boys that Claire has kissed, the issues that have been a part of the Claire/Megan dynamic and the tragedy that strikes Claire’s family. I won’t give away what happens during those moments, but as you find out more you learn the reasoning as to why Claire’s mother is always hurting and absent. You also see that, in spite of the flaws in their personalities and friendship, Claire and Megan genuinely care for one another and seem like sisters.
As the love triangle sizzles and explodes we catch glimpses of some characters’ true natures and the high school dramatics that often come with these events. We see just how manipulative some guys can be and we see how quickly friendships can turn sour. Honestly — I felt like I was back in high school reading this and couldn’t help but cringe at some moments. It was a real page turner.
Overall, the novel was pretty great. It was entertaining and a breeze to read through. I wish that we would have heard more about the family lives of all the characters and I hope that this isn’t a standalone novel because I’d love to see how Claire, Megan, Sam and Amberly, in particular, do in life after high school.
Each character featured and each of the various relationship have the potential to be something really great as they grow older and the ending felt a little lacking for me. It all felt real and like you knew these characters, or people like them, and the story captured a genuine essence of the high school world.
I think that the most important part of this novel lay in the tragedy and how Claire’s family reacts to it. It brings us the age old question of: when is it time to move on? It seemed to me that each scene involving her family, whether that be in flashbacks or in present day, were the heart of this novel. Each scene, each flicker of sadness, each moment of hope and then finally the moment where everything starts to change for the better, is important. It’s real life.
I liked that it ended on a positive note, but I was still hoping for at least some sort of flash forward to see Megan in cooking school (did I mention this? Megan isn’t your cliche high school cheerleader — she is an intelligent and talented wannabe chef!) with glimpses of Claire in college, living together and being the awesome BFFs they are, and Amberly working in beauty. I’d love to see Sam and Claire explored further, as well as Amberly’s romantic life and friendship with the girls.
My favorite scenes come towards the end of the novel when Claire and Megan finally tire of Luke’s bullshit and get a little revenge. I love it when Claire opens up more to Amberly and lets her in. I loved it when Megan and Claire make up and most of all, I loved it when Sam punched Luke. Because homeboy needed that punch and trust me, y’all will be cheering him on. Did I mention Luke is a total douchebag?
My absolute favorite part comes towards the end when Sam and Claire make a pact. And I’m rooting for them to keep that pact alive through college. I think it’s possible they will — and I was smiling like a fool when it was obvious they were going to work very hard to keep in touch.
I’d recommend this novel to anyone looking for something light to read. I think that fans of a lot of YA books on the market will enjoy this. Our release date is approaching rather quickly, so hopefully you guys go out and buy it and enjoy it as much as I did! Trust me: it’s the perfect read for either a beach day or a rainy day.