Back in May I talked a bit about how social media/the internet can affect me as a reader & one of those things was how seeing ratings and opinions can affect the books I’m considering picking up or starting to read. It’s a struggle for me to pick up books without consulting the internet to check what ratings say. On one hand it’s helpful in weeding out books that probably wouldn’t work for me and finding the books that probably WILL work better for me. But on the other hand? Sometimes I’m not picking up books SOLELY because of poor ratings. I’ve had a book in my hand at the bookstore before and then saw it ONLY had like a 3.4 average rating on Goodreads and put it back. Books that SOUNDED good but I’m like NOPE look at those ratings, look at all the hate.
And that was the case for this book – 17 First Kisses by Rachael Allen
I had gotten it for review and was excited about it. And then the reviews started coming in….super negative and the average rating was much lower than it is now (it was like a 3.4 or something I think at one point). Some of the reviews made the book sound AWFUL and ridiculous and I was like NOPE and took it off my shelf and put it into a box to deal with later with my other castoffs. I was so sad about it. But then it caught my attention later because a few people I really trust LOVED it and gave it 4 & 5 star reviews so I was like WHAT EVEN I NEED TO KNOW. So I decided to read it. AND I REALLY LIKED IT.
In this case the SUPER jarring difference in ratings really intrigued me to pick it up. And the things that people who were loving it were saying about it made me realize OH MAN…these are things I WOULD LOVE ABOUT IT and not things that would bother me.
What 17 First Kisses Is About:
So it’s about a girl who has kissed quite a few guys but nothing STICKS really into boyfriend material and guys that she is interested in ALWAYS seem to end up liking her bff. And then in walks Luke. And both girls have their eyes set on him but Claire feels so much differently about him than the other guys…like there’s something real there. So the story goes back through Claire & Megan’s history as friends, all of Claire’s kisses & Claire’s family life but also is at the present where Claire has to choose what to do with her feelings for Luke and her friendship with Megan.
While I felt like sometimes it was a BIT dramatic and the high school hierarchy was exaggerated a bit IMO, I really REALLY liked this book. And the things that made so many people give it 1 stars? Those were things that didn’t bother me personally.
Things That Made Me Enjoy This Book:
+ It was actually a lot “deeper” & emotional than I thought it would be — the summary makes it seem a little more frivolous and fun than it is. Claire’s family is going through some tough stuff and I just thought this book really opened up some interesting dialogue about serious and emotional topics.
+ Family & friendship focuses: Okay so there’s the whole Luke thing but really at the heart of this book is about family and friendships. The friendships painted could have easily been the cliche popular mean girls story but I actually really thought they were well done and the girls were very real to me. I loved watching the friendship between Claire and Megan start and evolve and learn all the inner-workings of the group and those two. There were some not cool things they did to each other but it was realistic struggle and I loved watching them try to sort it out because their friendship really DID matter.
+ the storytelling: It just really worked how everything was revealed and how we learned more and more about Claire.
+ the slut-shaming dialogue: This is where a lot of people HATED this book — all the slut-shaming. BUT MAN did I find it super realistic and reminiscent of myself as a high schooler back in the day. I learned how unhealthy and wrong it was but it took me becoming an adult to realize that. For me, just because I HATE things that are happening in a book does not mean I hate the book. It was hard to read but the thing is IT HAPPENS A LOT and the slut shaming in this book had a point. There are a lot of reasons why I think people slut shame (I think a lot of it is a defense mechanism & insecurity — at least it was for me) and I think that this book really explored those in such an authentic and honest way.
+ the flawed, round characters: Yeah, you aren’t going to like all the things they do and say. The girl hate. The slut-shaming. The mean girl antics at time. The friendship no-nos. But if we laid out the book of MY teenage life (especially my inner monologue)….I guarantee none of you would like ME on paper when you focus on my flaws and ignore the growth (however miniscule) and the GOOD things. I totally dated a boy my sister liked, I backstabbed, I slut-shamed and I did things that 28 year old Jamie is NOT proud of. Sometimes I knew they were wrong and sometimes I didn’t. These characters reminded me of the beauty of this age because of how much you are finding yourself through mistakes and experience (lots of firsts) and how there is SO much room for growing and learning. So that was an aspect that, while I get why others didn’t like these characters, I totally did.
Hannah’s whole point of her post is being true to yourself and reading the books YOU want to read. Obviously we rely on recommendations and blogs to help us but we shouldn’t forget why WE want to read something despite what ratings and reviews say. One of the things I mentioned while talking to these ladies is how I’ve gone back and looked at ratings for books I LOVED but read before blogging and before I checked ratings obsessively and some of them, if it were NOW, I probably wouldn’t have picked up due to ratings or GR friend’s reviews. I’ve started dipping my toes in the waters of NOT CHECKING GOODREADS when I’m browsing at the library and it’s freeing. And I mean, so what if I read it and the ratings/reviews were right? It was FREE.
I think my experience with 17 First Kisses is one of those things where I learned exactly what Hannah is talking about…to trust my gut because in my heart I knew I didn’t always get bugged about the things that the people giving this 1 stars were bugged about. This experience made me realize I rely too heavily on opinions. I’m not saying I’m not going to stop reading reviews/looking at ratings because it so SO helpful to me but I need to let myself pick up a book I want to even if everyone else says it sucks and not give into all the opinions that are out there.
What about you guys? Have you ever almost not read a book because of ratings/reviews but then read it and were so glad you did? How do you balance reviews/ratings with what YOU want to read? Also, did you read 17 First Kisses….what did you think?