Review: First & Then by Emma Mills

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: First & Then by Emma MillsFirst & Then by Emma Mills
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on October 13, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars

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.

I struggled a bit with First & Then, because I turn into a different sort of reader when Jane Austen is involved. The book blurb pitched First & Then as Pride & Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights, so I went into Mills’ debut with a whole host of expectations as a result. Namely, I expected a retelling, which First & Then is not. I spent roughly the first third or so trying to make the characters map to P&P, primarily failing. First & Then has references and some elements that cross over, but it’s its own story. Thankfully, once I was able to settle in and appreciate First & Then for what it was and not what I wanted it to be, I loved this adorable, shippy tale that left me with a smile on my face.

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All of a sudden I understand the cover!

Devon Tennyson isn’t really an Elizabeth Bennet. They have some things in common, like a love of reading for example, but Devon’s also got a lot that’s not Lizzy. One of the most overt things they do share is the prejudice. Devon’s highly judgmental. This comes out most obviously in her gym class, where she’s one of two seniors surrounded by freshman. She thinks of the girls as prostitots, because of their skimpy clothes and makeup. As happens to Lizzy, Devon will have to confront her judgment and realize that she’s been wrong. Devon also share’s Lizzy’s desire to fit in, but Devon takes it to the next level. Lizzy is often embarrassed of her family at parties, but Devon goes to very great lengths not to stand out. She frequently tries to tone Foster down so he won’t embarrass her. Lacking Lizzy’s trademark wit, it took me a while to fall into Devon’s voice, but eventually I got there, particularly as Devon opened herself up to the people around her.

One of the key differences about Devon is that she’s an only child. Though she’s fairly popular at school, she doesn’t have many close friends. Pretty much her only real friend is Cas, for whom she unfortunately has unrequited romantic feelings, which is a serious relationship barrier. Perhaps because she’s an only child and can’t be truly herself with her best friend, Devon holds people at an arm’s length. She goes to parties but doesn’t enjoy them and doesn’t really try to make new friends. Her default is not to trust people and to keep to herself.

gif lbd suspicious of people

Family is a huge part of First & Then, and that element has no tie to P&P at all. Devon’s cousin Foster has been living with her family because his mom hasn’t been able to take care of him because terrible sad reasons. At first, Devon’s sort of annoyed to have him around, because she’s afraid he’ll bring the wrong kind of attention to her. Devon coming to love Foster as a brother of her heart is probably the most emotional aspect of the book. It’s her relationship with Foster that really changes Devon, not her connection to Ezra.

Foster has this big, open, trusting heart, and bravely charges into the world completely himself. He’s sort of the anti-Devon, completely comfortable to stand out and risk his feelings, even though he’s dealing with a lot of family sadness. The only reason that Devon gives Ezra a chance to prove himself not a dickhead is because she sees how good he is with Foster. Without Foster, she probably would have written Ezra off completely. Because of Foster, Devon gets to know Marabelle better. Because she’s getting to know more people and participating in more things, Devon has the strength to reevaluate her relationship with Cas.

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The other thing First & Then does brilliantly is develop the secondary characters. It sort of took me aback at first how many minor characters there were. People like Jordan and Emir have minimal plot impact, but a fairly large emotional impact. I mean, Jordan’s this nice guy, and he sort of stole any scene he was in, but he didn’t advance the plot really. (Also I totally pictured him as Fitz. <3) However, he drops some truth bombs and is another example of Devon warming up and really showing herself to people. Devon’s love rival, Lindsay, gets to be more than just a love rival; the rivals in a love triangle becoming friends is one of my favorite things. The one character that I really couldn’t get a hold on was Cas; I do not like him, because I cannot get past that confrontation at the dance.

Then there’s Ezra, who really does fit the Darcy mold to a T. He’s a nice guy, but he’s really bad at social interaction, so he tends to be really quiet with a severe expression. Add to that the fact that he’s a football legend and he comes off as a proud dickhead. There are a couple of nice Austeny touches here. I appreciated the moment at a house party where he awkwardly tries to ask her to dance, but she totally doesn’t get that he was doing that and wanders off. Poor Ezra.

DarcyBot
Also Ezra was called a football robot at one point and I about died.

Also, the letter to the editor he wrote was a cute nod to Darcy’s letter at Rosings, though the content and circumstances were massively different. They’re totally shippable. My only disappointment here was that, despite Devon’s wish that Austen novels spent more time on the very best part, the getting together and kisses, First & Then skimps on that. They get together at the very end with just a bit of kissing. That commentary on Jane’s books got my hopes up, and then that let me down. Still cute but I wanted a couple of chapters of couple time! Plus, I’d really like to know if they got into colleges remotely near one another because seniors hello.

Though it’s not heavily Jane Austen in a lot of ways, I think Austen would be proud to have inspired this novel of love and football. Austen does love flawed heroes and heroines growing to be better people and falling in love.

Favorite Quote:

“I really think you should, you know, give that, uh … soup … a chance.”

“Soup?”

“You know. That soup we were talking about. I think you should give it a shot. It’s a really … good recipe. Highly dependable. And obviously delicious.” Her eyes widened. “Not that I would know. Not that I’ve tasted the soup.”

“This is not a flawless metaphor.”

She grinned. “I’m just saying, the soup obviously likes you; and if you like the soup, too, you should just…”

“Don’t say ‘eat the soup’.”

“That’s not … you’re right. I suck at metaphors. But you know what I mean. You deserve good soup.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif darcy lizzie feels

2 responses to “Review: First & Then by Emma Mills”

  1. YAYAYAYAYAYYYYYYY I knew it was a Christina book 😉

    You’re right, it really is less of a retelling and more of an homage to Austen. But since the two leads have a Lizzie/Darcy dynamic, I see why they went with P&P marketing wise. I love Ezra to pieces. I also enjoyed that it was her relationship with Foster which was the driving catalyst for her moreso than romance. We’ve established this of course but MORE KISSING WAS REQUIRED. Ugh. I’m tempted to reread this, it was so cute but had more substance than I expected.

  2. Lyn Kaye says:

    “The other thing First & Then does brilliantly is develop the secondary characters.”

    SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD SOLD.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Garden Gazette: October Wrap UpMy Profile

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