Friday 23 October 2015

Book Review: First & Then by Emma Mills.

Product details:
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Hardcover, 272 pages.
Release date: October 13th 2015.
Rating:  4 out of 5.
Ages: 14+.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

 Pitched as Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights, this impressive debut from Emma Mills follows seventeen-year-old Jane Austen devotee Devon Tennyson as she navigates her Senior Year, which includes an unrequited crush on her best friend Cas, and a new addition to her family in the shape of her fourteen-year-old cousin, Foster who has come to stay.

Devon is a dreamer. She dreams of feisty heroines, of dashing leading men and of romantic happy ever afters.  She’s content living in her very own Jane Austen bubble, but, as we all know, bubbles eventually must burst, and as a senior, it’s almost time for Devon to wake up and join the real world. There’s college to consider; Devon presumes she’ll go to college after school, but is undecided on where she’ll go or what she’ll do. The truth is, she doesn’t really want to think about it.   Overall, it’s safe to say that Devon is a little lazy – she doesn’t really get involved in extracurriculars at school, and in her crush on Cas, she plays it safe too – Cas is never going to find out about her crush, that’s for sure. Devon has been firmly Friendzoned. And she’s OK with that. It means that her pride is protected, and she never has to put her heart on the line.

In order to graduate Devon has to take a P.E. class, which so far she’s opted out of year after year (See, told you she was kinda lazy. I mean, I HATED P.E. in school too…) and so finds herself in a freshman class, which, much to Devon’s annoyance, includes her cousin, Foster.  The star of the football team, Ezra Lynley, who immediately senses a footballing talent in Foster, and takes him under his wing, also makes an appearance in class, which sweetens the deal a little.   Ezra is the (devastatingly handsome) strong and silent type – a real man of few words, is this one – and pretty much hated by the rest of the football team. He’s a transfer, and better than the rest, so that’s the way it goes, hey.   His teammate’s treatment of Ezra is just one of the ways the theme of prejudice weaves its way into the plot of this book. Our girl Devon is prone to prejudice herself; mostly in the way she judges people (the preened and permanently lip glossed girls in her P.E. class) purely on appearance.

Though there are nods to the works of Jane Austen throughout the text of First & Then, you don’t have to be a fan of Austen, or to have read any of her books to enjoy this one.  I have read most of Austen’s books, although not for many years now, so I’m sure there were some references I missed. Case in point: the characters of Marabelle and Emir – secondary characters with interesting backstories who both make multiple appearances here before completely disappearing from view. I was left to wonder if I had maybe missed Austen references in relation to these characters, because I felt like there was maybe more to the inclusion of these sometimes seemingly random (in the case of Emir, at least) characters. Somebody fill me in?

The characterization in this book is otherwise strong. Foster was a favourite of mine – I really felt for this kid. His dad is dead, and his mother, who has all but abandoned him, is battling a major drug problem. I loved Ezra for taking Foster under his wing, and for understanding him.  First & Then has shades of Friday Night Lights, and for his big heart and underlying kindness Ezra shares definite characteristics with that all time crush of mine (and probably yours), Tim Riggins. Also, there is a character in this book – Jordan – who is Smash Williams all over. Loved that!  I also thought that Devon’s crush on her best friend Cas played out in a very true-to-life (and sometimes cringe-worthy) way. Well, I guess that falling for your best friend has to be all kinds of awkward when it’s suddenly not a secret – and maybe never was!

A tale of family, friendship, first love and football, First & Then is a super cute, pitch perfect debut with a highly relatable main character in Devon, and a slow burn romance that will give you all the feels.


p.s: I think Foster and Marabelle need a book of their very own. I want to know what happens next!

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