Review: First and Then by Emma Mills



Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: October 13, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: arc, from the publisher
Status: standalone


Summary:
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.

Review:
The very first thing I need to say about First & Then is about the title, and how delightful it is. I am a HUGE football fan, but even I didn't get the pun in the title until the very moment I finished the book and flipped it shut. First & Then....first...and...TEN. For those of you who don't understand sportsball, football players on offense have four tries to move the football ten yards. These tries are called downs. So on a first down, teams usually have ten yards to go unless there's a weird exception caused by a penalty or a goal-line situation going on. Just trust me on this. Or Wikipedia. My point here is points to whomever decided on that title. You win.

Also, as I contemplated this title and its use in the book, I started to realize that Devon's relationship with both Ezra and Foster is a little bit like a football game. "Whaaaa?" you might wonder, but go with me here. A football game is a lot of push and pull, both between the two teams as they switch places on offense and defense AND in an individual series (the entire time one team is on offense is one series). The same is true of Devon with Foster and Devon with Ezra. Example: Devon asks Ezra to be her partner in gym. She gains maybe like three yards with that "play," but then Ezra tells her to go get a ball. That's him putting up defense. Devon then tells him to get it herself. Bam. First down and Devon earns herself some respect (and for anyone who has read the book, later on we find out this was in fact a very pivotal moment for them). Later on, Devon and Ezra seem to be on the cusp of....well, something, but then a misunderstanding has Devon pulling back and asking to "reset" their relationship. This is like getting a penalty and being set back several yards, making it more challenging for them to move forward. This is also evident in Devon's interactions with Foster. I really don't know if this was intentional on Emma's part, but I don't care. I love finding parallels like that in books, even if it's just my interpretation and not the author's intention. Not going to lie, First & Then was a solid 3 star read for me UNTIL I thought of it in this light and had an "ohhhhh" moment, which happened AFTER I closed the book!

If you've seen any reviews or discussions of First & Then, I'm sure you've seen comments that Foster is the real star, and I am here to confirm it. I'll get to Devon in a second, but I really didn't feel like this was her story. It was Foster's, and we, the readers, experience it through Devon. Foster is sweet and so authentically himself that it's impossible not to love him. He's an oddball, but he's just being true to himself and he owns it. Foster has experienced great loss in his life and is simultaneously not bitter and very bitter. I love that he opens Devon's eyes to the effects tragedy can have on teens even years after. Also, Foster is so wonderfully open to new experiences and new people. He embraces the Future Science Revolutionaries and the football team and Ezra and Maribelle, and he is embraced in return. It's major feels-inducing to witness.

I also was a fan of the side characters. Ezra, Jordan, Maribelle, Rachel, and even Cas and freaking Lindsey all had great purpose, and brought out more of Devon's character than she ever exposes through her narration. Ezra is obviously swoony and broody, and Maribelle is quirky and sweet (minus points to Cas for being a douche to/about her), but the shining star in the supporting cast is Jordan. I had no idea when he was introduced that he'd be as big a player in the book. I was like, oh, sure, football star, Mr. Popular, king of the party, blah blah blah, he won't be around long. But he was like Yoda or Mr. Miyagi or something and he totally called Devon out on her ridiculous bullshit. I love that they're actual friends, but Devon basically uses him to get the scoop on Ezra when he's being moody and broody. I think it's fantastic that Jordan gently but firmly reminds Devon their friendship is more than him giving her advice about Ezra. This kind of treatment creates three dimensional side characters who feel real because you can imagine them living a life outside of the main plot, and it's something I really appreciate in books I read. Cas... I think a lot of people will be really hard on Cas, but I think he does love Devon as his friend and just because he doesn't share the romantic feelings she obviously has for him is no reason to hate the guy. The way he acts toward Maribelle and Ezra, on the other hand, is much more damning of his character. I'm not excusing this behavior, but I don't think Cas is evil; I just think this proves, again, he is a dynamic character with both good and bad qualities. The only truly flat character was the douchey guy on the football team who does nothing but hate on Ezra, and all I can say is at least he serves a purpose.

Now to my biggest complaint of First & Then: Devon. Devon is actually the reason I truly considered giving First & Then 3 stars. Devon simply didn't have a strong enough point of view to truly justify her being the "main" character and narrator. Her voice is bland. She really is the window through which we view Foster and even Ezra because she, as a character, doesn't have much tint to her, if that makes any sense. It's so strange for a book written in first person to have a narrator who has almost zero personality. It's not even that Devon is unreliable; an unreliable narrator usually has some sort of catalyst that creates said unreliability, and it's usually something interesting. Devon, sadly, is not. All these characters are like, "you're easy to talk to" and "you're a good listener" and I'm like, 1. when did that happen? and 2. THAT'S BECAUSE SHE ISN'T ACTUALLY SAYING ANYTHING VALUABLE HERSELF. Ahem. I have been actively the last couple years to not be so unnecessarily hard on female characters and examining how I judge them in regards to male characters, but in this case, I don't think I am. Devon just didn't do....anything, and she didn't do anything for me as a character or as a narrator, although I loved her moments with Foster. That was when she possessed the most life.

Overall, I thought First & Then was a sweet book. The Jane Austen elements were a bit heavy handed for me, and Devon lacked the depth and complexity I prefer main characters to possess, but Foster was a delight as a surprise main character, and the relationships explored throughout the book were dynamic. First & Then was a fast, fun, fluffy read that football fans and non-sportsy readers alike will enjoy.

Book Links:
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About the Author:
Emma Mills is a debut author better known to her subscribers as vlogger Elmify. She is also cocreator and cohost of the "life skills" channel How to Adult.

Author Links:
  

5 comments:

  1. Mary, I love you. I love that you took your review to the next level by comparing Devon's relationships to a football game. Amazing. <3
    Ezra was my favorite because, duh, but yeah, Foster was adorable. He broke my heart a few times. And I didn't hate Cas - I just wanted Devon to be done with him haha.

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    1. I love you too! Although First & Then didn't knock my socks off, it was a fun book, and I am so glad it inspired me to start writing reviews again. And the football twist, it just kind of hit me, and when I thought over the book again, I loved all the similarities I found.

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  2. I'll admit I didn't get the First & Then title until I saw you talking on twitter about it! D'oh! Your review is great, I love how you compare it to football and that you liked the book too. I actually really liked Devon, but Foster and Maribelle were two of my favorites. And Jordan. And how Lindsey's character was handled. And EZRA! I'm a big Austen fan so I enjoyed all the references. This book was so cute.

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    1. Thanks, Morgan! Inspiration to review just hit me, and it was awesome having that feeling again. I definitely liked the character development (although I still just can't relate to Devon at all), but yes to Lindsay. I like that Emma didn't turn it into a witch hunt. I hate that.

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  3. Wow! Your reviews are so good, so much detail and help me choose books. This one attracted me at first by the cover. now I know it's not a heavy read, yet it's fun. I love changing up my books from heavy to lighter, from historical to mysteries, etc. This will keep my list fresh.

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