About the Book

Title: 17 First Kisses
Published: 2014
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Rapture-ous
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Talky Talk: Kiss Countdown
Bonus Factor: Frienemies
Anti-Bonus Factors: Julie Taylor Syndrome
Relationship Status: Unintentional Bait and Switch

Cover Story: Rapture-ous

OK, let’s focus on the positive first. With the title and premise that this book has, this cover could have been so, SO much worse. When numbers are involved, at least in the movie world, promo material can sometimes undermine the audience’s grasp of basic numbers. 

But contrary to the title, 17 First Kisses is not a prequel to a Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie. And contrary to the cover model, it’s also not about Emmy Rossum’s little sister awaiting the rapture’s sweet embrace.

The Deal:

It’s senior year, and Claire can’t wait to get out of her small Georgian town. Sure, she’ll miss her best friend, Megan, but at least the two of them wouldn’t be going after the same guys anymore — or, rather, guys wouldn’t be picking Megan over her again. 

So when new guy Luke arrives on the scene and both girls fall for him, him choosing Megan is a foregone conclusion, right? But what if Luke is actually SUCH a better match for Claire? 

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

BFF charm with Natalie Imbruglia's face.

I’m torn, y’all. Maybe I’m just at a Roger Murtaugh age of being too old for that fighting-over-boys shizz, esp. with your BFF. Friendship never ends, Claire! Have you learned nothing from the Spice Girls? Omg — are you TOO YOUNG for them to even have been a crucial influence on your life?! Pardon me as I WITHER AWAY FROM AGE.

Although, actually — I DID like the same boy as my BFF back when I was a YA, and that was resolved without a modicum of dramz*, so I shouldn’t be blaming Claire’s youthfulness for our incompatibility. Maybe I flat-out don’t want to be her friend because she’s not as good of one as she thinks she is. Like Claire, I don’t buy into the Girl Code, either (other than a general ‘don’t be an asshole’ philosophy). But this off-putting ‘competition’ brings out the cattiness, and Claire’s willing to risk her closest friendship for a potential relationship. If friends are that disposable to her, I certainly wouldn’t want to be hers.

Then again, am I just being too harsh on Claire? The insecurity when it comes to Megan is such a very teenage affliction, as are her perpetual state of boredom and her superiority complex over people with her same small town roots. Claire does improve with time, so maybe I should reconsider at that point? Or it could really be our age difference at work, and ARGHHH THE IMBRUGLIALITY OF IT ALL.

*My BFF dropped out of the running, while I discovered — after months of s-l-o-o-o-w and far too subtle flirting — that the boy was DEF. not as smart as he was pretty. And he was so very pretty.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

There’s some cute sparkage between Claire and Luke when they first meet — and spar — on the soccer field. There’s even a scene right out of She’s the Man! And this basically describes every single romantic interaction I’ve ever had:

I’m basking in the feeling you get when you’re instantly attracted to someone and you haven’t found anything wrong with them yet. 

But once Megan entered the picture — the messier the love triangle became, the more I soured on any relationship with Luke, as well as Luke himself. So these swoon points are actually not for him AT ALL, but for two boys on the list of Claire’s first kisses. Their storylines can be spotted a mile away, but their sweetness makes up for the predictability.

Talky Talk: Kiss Countdown

When the book begins, Claire has only had thirteen first kisses, so there’s a little dramatic irony at play. The story is mostly set in the present, with the exception of flashbacks of each first kiss. It’s a neat storytelling technique that really shows how these characters have changed (or not changed) over the years.

Less effective is Claire’s occasional habit of giving her own definitions for words and phrases. While Claire could certainly be someone who nerds out with her words out, that interest would be an afterthought compared to her athletic prowess.

And for a well-intentioned book that’s anti-slut-shaming, the characters still haphazardly deem people — or, let’s be real, other girls — to be trashy or slutty by the way they dress. The instances I noticed actually took place in Claire’s past, but I wish the book would further distance itself from that behaviour. It may be realistic about how teens talk, and its inclusion isn’t the same as an endorsement of it, but I would have appreciated a stronger stance against the damaging mentality of basing someone’s character solely on what they’re wearing.

Bonus Factor: Frienemies

Karen, Gretchen, and Regina at the mall (Mean Girls)

I’d like to say that it makes no sense to be friends with someone you don’t really like and that I’ve never done such a thing. But then I’d be a liar, liar, pants on fire. Whose life hasn’t been needlessly complicated by friendship politics at least once? Claire carries a bit of baggage re: being overlooked for Megan, but it’s obvious why they’re best friends — when boys are out of the equation, that is.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Julie Taylor Syndrome

Sigh, and here’s my main issue about this book: I’m much more interested in everybody else other than Claire. She’s not exactly boring, but the non-romantic storylines are way more compelling: culinary wizard Megan clashing with her academics-minded family; Claire’s own parents recovering from a devastating heartbreak; and Claire herself keeping her second-tier friend, Amberly, at arm’s length. Heck, I would have even liked to know more about Luke’s home life. The more I read, the less I cared about the remaining first kisses; I just wanted more of everything else.

Relationship Status: Unintentional Bait and Switch

Book, when I was perusing through your online profile, I thought you had a neat hook so I asked you out. But it was only on our date that I discovered there’s a lot about you that wasn’t emphasized in your profile — things I like, and like wayyyyy better than your gimmick. I mean, it wouldn’t be that weird if I started hanging out with everyone in your life but you, right? Right.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from HarperTeen. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). 17 First Kisses is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.