First by Jacob Louder (cover image)

First by Jacob Louder (cover image)

First by Jacob Louder. Go Deeper Press. (April 2014). Distributed by Amazon Digital Services.

Every once in a while, I read something that takes me by surprise. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I take notice, because there is, invariably, more going on than I’d initially expected. This is what happened as I was reading Jacob Louder’s debut novella First, which is the first volume in a projected series about his protagonist, Nico, a fourteen year old bisexual boy who engages in a series of revelatory sexual experiences.

Before I go on, I want to outline my expectations going in, because I suspect they’re why I was taken by surprise. I didn’t know much about First beyond the fact that it’s a sexual coming of age story about a teenage boy, and that it involves his attachment to a transgender kid. I also knew that I liked Jacob Louder’s style a lot, based on his story in an erotica anthology, Dirty Little Numbers, published earlier last year. What I’d been expecting was a sexy, playful, contemporary erotic novella – something with substance, of course, but nothing terribly serious, and certainly nothing that would provoke emotional consideration. What I got, instead, is an important, though at times slightly disturbing, chronicle of teenage sexuality.

Let me say up front that First is excellent. Louder’s control of the material is very good, his empathy for his characters is obvious and his sensitivity to the issues he explores is commendable. There is nothing cavalier or sensational about this work. It’s sexual, and candid and Nico is quite charming and self aware. But the novella also goes to dark, uncomfortable places, bringing up questions of adult / minor sexual interactions, and exactly how young is too young for a child and a young teenager to engage sexually. These are questions that cannot be explored in erotica anthologies – underage protagonists are as verboten as incest, bestiality and rape in most widely distributed collections – which means that Louder goes to the places that I often wish could be examined in the context of erotica, and he does it very well. That said, it’s important that the reader understand what they’re engaging before they read the book.

Erotica can do many things. It’s the primary reason I love the genre so much. In the case of First, it challenges and questions and, at times, unsettles, very much in the tradition of the great Anais Nin, with her literary accounts of incest, children and questionable consent. It’s an important book, one that I think people should read. My only caveat would be that the reader goes in with open eyes – understand that what you’re getting isn’t simple, consumable fun. It’s not masturbatory and it’s not particularly comfortable. It’s raunchy, sexual literature, and it deserves the reader’s consideration as such.