A determined teen uses sex to regain control over her life.
Mercedes is 17, hellbent on attending MIT, and secretly sleeping with boys to coach them on how to give their girlfriends the great first sexual experience they deserve. She adheres to a strict code, working with virgins only, insisting on absolute secrecy, and maintaining a pure image by attending the weekly prayer meetings led by her best friend, Angela. By doing this, Mercedes thinks she can control the delicacy of the service she’s offering as smoothly as she handles complex chemistry experiments. But she’s already violated her self-imposed boundary of working with just five deserving boys, then 10, then more. Eventually, Mercedes realizes that she’s using these encounters—and a secret, sex-only relationship with her lab partner, Zach—to exercise control over aspects of her life that make her feel unsafe. These include her relationship with her irresponsible, image-obsessed mother and the memories of her sexual assault years ago. Meanwhile, her expectation of privacy is crumbling, Zach wants to be her boyfriend, and she’s attracted to alluring new student Faye. When Mercedes’ secrets are exposed, she must confront the truths of her painful past and her complicated present. The novel exposes some of the double standards inherent in our purity-obsessed culture but stops short of interrogating the value of the concept of virginity, giving the story an uneasy ambiguity.
A promising if overlong and ambivalent debut. (Fiction. 14-18)