Really good contemporary YA romance is hard to find, and I only come across a few each year that grab me heart and soul. I can honestly say that First and Then is one of those rare finds. The cover is unassuming and the title gives little away, but there is a lot of heart in this unexpected gem, and it left me feeling exactly like a great book should. I gave it five stars, and I preordered it for my classroom library. I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.
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.
Okay, so this book made me cry just a teensy bit, and that doesn’t happen ever, so I”ll say I was really engaged with these characters and their story. Devon is a strong narrative voice and even though her conflicts aren’t universal, her personality and emotions make it hard not to relate to her hopes, disappointments, and doubts. She comes across as an average YA who is kind of floating along her senior year until some big changes alter her world view, one relationship at a time. Foster, her awkward cousin, is a charming addition to the storyline, and his own conflicts add a lot of depth while his socially inept presence adds a lot of comic relief. I want my own Foster! The two possible romantic interest are compelling characters each in their own way. I appreciated the way the author gave them some vulnerabilities because it made them much more than just representations of YA love interests that we’ve all seen before. I also appreciated the pace, which took the time to build meaningful relationships and character backgrounds. The romance may come across as lethargic to some readers, but it is perfectly suited to parallel a Jane Austin romance, and that, I believe, is just exactly the intention. While this is touted as Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights, and that is a truthful comparison, I didn’t see so much a retelling in this book as the spirit of those two things, something that can make this book accessible to both Austenites and those who haven’t a clue about her works. This feels wholly modern and refreshingly original. I think my high school girls will enjoy this as much as I did. It is a modern and realistic take on how love of all kinds can surprise you. Some mature language, but no graphic situations make this a book for grades 9+, but adult readers of YA will enjoy it just as much.
This book is in our classroom library.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.