First & Then – Emma Mills – Henry Holt and Co – Published 13 October 2015
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.
A charming and enjoyable novel, First & Then sweeps you into a tremendous mix of family, friendship, football and that tenuous time of nearing the end of high school and trying to decide on the next step (oh, and a gorgeously sweet romance).
Devon has cruised through high school, spending most of her time with her best friend Cas, comfortably comfortable in their little bubble of two. But recently, Devon’s younger cousin Foster has moved into her family home, Cas is moving on not seeming to share the feelings Devon has for him, and Devon is worried about the impending end of high school. So when Foster shows an ability to kick a football and the school football star Ezra Lynley offers to coach Foster, Devon is pushed outside of her comfortable routine and challenged to view her life a little differently.
This isn’t a Jane Austen retelling, but her stories do get quite a few mentions. Devon is a fan and contrasts her complicated life with the way things would happen if she lived in one of Jane’s novels. There are some gorgeous lines in this book from the downright hilarious to the sweet and touching. I loved the writing style, loved the mix of characters, loved the blend of family, self-discovery and romance (and sport). I was smiling, laughing and tearing up. I was sucked in from the first page, surprised and totally delighted by this book.
I really enjoyed reading Devon’s story, she makes for an excellent narrator with her mix of sarcasm and mini diatribes. Devon’s skills in gym class just surpass my own, (which is to say pretty much none) and she is relatable and flawed, but working to be a better person. Foster is adorkably endearing. He brings both heartbreak and brilliance to the book with his unique way of looking at things. And Ezra is a guy with hidden depth. He makes for a great romantic interest, but also plays a key role in befriending Foster.
The relationship between Ezra and Devon isn’t at first obvious. But from little interactions in gym class (so when Tuesday rolls around and Devon groans, ‘not gym class’, I was doing a mini happy dance), emails, and interactions as he trains Foster, you see them slowly connect (and annoy each other). Devon is focused on her life, her unrequited crush on Cas and her future of incomplete college applications, so she doesn’t pay all that much attention to Ezra, aside from him befriending Foster and his apparent standoffishness. It is the perfect way to build a romance, sneaking up and surprising the characters. But it’s not without its complications, as Devon is struggling to figure out herself and who exactly she likes.
While the romance is a lovely part of the story, the main focus is really about Devon’s view of and relationship with Foster. While she isn’t always nice towards him, I was surprised at how willing she is to spend time with him and look out for him. She cares, even if she surprises herself with this fact.
Sport, particularly football is a big part of this book. Reading the summary and seeing the cover, I initially though the two didn’t match. But the cover portrays the mood of this book so well. Despite heavier undertones of Foster’s family situation, it really is a bright and charming book.
First & Then has all the elements of a perfect young adult contemporary, and it is a surprising and delightful book that is well worth reading.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Sport, friendship, Jane Austen, families, romance, high school, college,
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Coarse language, f***, s***, as*h***, bi***. Infrequent sexual references.
Published: 13 October 2015 by Henry Holt and co.
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 272 pages.