Meg Tilly’s new book, First Time, is directed towards reluctant teen readers. The book is small (just over 100 pages), and the font is fairly large (probably 12pt Arial). The story however, is not for a younger reader, it’s geared towards a teen audience. It is in a particular imprint by Orca Book Publishers because of this.

Orca Soundings are short high-interest novels with contemporary themes, written expressly for teens reading below grade level.

“These small, large-print paperback books in the Orca Soundings series use simple vocabulary and short sentences combined with lots of authentic dialogue and engrossing subject matter, making them ideal for high-interest, low-reading collections. The authors are not afraid of controversial language or material, which is in large part the secret of the series’ appeal. Open endings lead to discussion and further exploration. These little novels with their colorful covers are sure to be a hit.”

The novel is written in first person by Haley, who is 16. Her best friend is Lynn and they are inseperable, especially in the difficult days of high school. So when Lynn starts dating Chad, a notorius ‘player’, Haley tries to be happy for her, but is much more concerned. To make matters worse, Haley’s mom’s new boyfriend starts making unwanted advances and Haley finds herself with no one to tell. She doesn’t want to upset her mother, and her best friend is never available, Haley has to face it alone.

I stormed through this book, knowing that it was from the Orca Soundings series, but was a bit disappointed by the ending. I thought that the book definitely met it’s aim: authentic subject, simple vocabulary, some controversial material. However, I disagreed with the open ending theory; I don’t think you need to leave strings hanging to have meaningful discussions regarding the book and it’s subject matter. It didn’t feel polished and I think that readers (especially reluctant ones) enjoy having a story with an end because it feels complete.

That being said, First Time is an excellent novel; I loved that they broached a subject matter that may otherwise be taboo (teenagers being sexually active). I really like how Lynn identified that she was in “lust” not “love”, however because the book was short, it had to move quickly, so I felt like Lynn rushed into her decision to have sex. Also, the book showed another side to sex — unwanted advances. Haley was molested and physically abused by her mother’s boyfriend, and we followed her thoughts through this difficult trauma.

All in all, I think Meg Tilly is an excellent writer. I like that she isn’t afraid of different subject matter (her first book, Porcupine, dealt with divorce and abandonment). I’d recommend her books for a young adult audience.

P.S. Meg Tilly will be at The Word on the Street Vancouver to read and discuss First Time, and to sign copies of her book.

Full disclosure: I read a copy of the book that we received in the office. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.