Release Date: October 13, 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.
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.
Pride & Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights. That’s the simple description of Emma Mills’ debut novel First & Then that immediately stirred up some HUGE expectations in me. That is a mega comparison to make for a debut novel, and when I first read this book’s synopsis several months ago, I was partly ecstatic (football book!), but also partly scared that this comparison would cause a lot of disappointed readers, myself included. No matter how hard I tried to reassure myself that I was going to read First & Then with an open mind and NOT compare it to one of my all time favorite TV shows (and classic books), it was hard. I was excited from the moment I first read that it was going to feature football, and with that gorgeous cover, I just knew deep down that it was destined to be a new favorite of the year for me.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s my absolute favorite book of the year, First & Then ranks pretty damn high on my list. It turned out to be a debut novel that is able to stand on its own merits (though I admit that it DOES hold up well to that Pride & Prejudice/FNL comparison). It did start off a little bit slow for me. At first, I felt a little disconnected from Dev, though I couldn’t really put my finger on why that was. As the story progressed though, I began to warm up to her, and by the middle of the book, I was rooting for her and a certain football star. However, in my opinion, it was surprisingly Foster who stole the show. Foster, Dev’s younger cousin who came to live with her family after his mom’s drug problem spiraled out of control, is a bit unusual, though he is immediately likable. Being an only child for the last 17 years, Dev is a little resistant to him at first, and she isn’t exactly happy that her parents rely on her a lot to help Foster fit in. However, watching her and Foster’s relationship grow is one of my absolute favorite things about this novel.
Despite the initial appearance of a love triangle, don’t let that keep you from reading First & Then. It isn’t what you think, I promise. Even if you are one of those readers who detests love triangles to your very core, I think you will like this book (I’m not a huge fan of them either). The romance that does develop between Dev and _____ is one of tension and awkwardness and I love it. It makes it seem so realistic and high school-y. The girl and guy are both unsure of how the other feels, and just like real life, this causes them to make some infuriatingly stupid moves regarding the other person. Emma Mills, are you sure you didn’t know me in high school? It sure does seem like you walked the halls with me. I was one big ball of awkwardness and stupid moves with my first boyfriend, but just like these two in First & Then, I had those same amazing butterflies that make you wish you could hold on to that feeling forever. But I digress. ;)
Then there’s the football motif in First & Then. IT’S PERFECTLY PERFECT. It has Ezra, the typical star player who has his pick of colleges (a la Smash Williams or Jason Street-pre-injury, for my fellow FNL fans). Then there’s Foster, the player with all the heart–the one who is by no means the best but who has enough heart to carry the whole team (Matt Seracen, anyone?). We also get a glimpse into the brotherhood that develops between teammates, and it made me want to squish Ezra and Jordan and Foster into a big “guy” hug. Emma Mills captured the bond and camaraderie that develops between guys on a team so well, and she also does an good job of portraying the ugly side– the jealousy.
Even if you aren’t a fan of football or sports stories, I think you’ll enjoy this one. Dev Tennyson, the main character and narrator, grows a lot throughout First & Then. A LOT. She becomes much more likable as the story progresses. I can’t decide if it is the growth of Dev’s character, or if it was the fact that Mills’ writing gets even better as the story progresses, but despite a slow start, the second half of the novel definitely scores a touchdown (I almost said knocks it out of the park, but this is a football book, so I decided I better change my metaphors accordingly!). I can’t wait to see more from Emma Mills!
Taken from the ARC.
“Football was something everyone had in common– like a mutual religion. We all believed in touchdowns and field goals. We were all baptized in the floodlights.”
“So why don’t you look happy when you play [football]? You’re the best at it. You’d think you’d be the happiest guy in the world.”
“When you love something, you can’t be happy all the time, can you? Like that’s why you love it. It makes you feel all kinds of things, not just happy. It can hurt, it can make you fucking mad, but…it makes you feel something, you know?”
“I should’ve been better. But sometimes all you can really stand to do is think about yourself. Sometimes it’s the only way to cope. The only way to make sense of something as colossal and intimidating as the world is to make it about you.”
“A thousand electric cars could run on how you feel when you know that person you like likes you back. It feels incredible. Like it shouldn’t be possible. Of all the happy coincidences to ever exist, it’s one of the happiest.”