Described as Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights, First & Then by Emma Mills is is an enjoyable book that acknowledges the significance of normal, every-day experiences and explores what it means to be friends and family.
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.
On the whole, First & Then is really a story centered around the characters and Emma Mills has done a wonderful job creating a cast of characters who are realistic and relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Devon, Cas, Foster, Ezra, and the rest of Devon’s social circle. One of the things that made this book so relevant is that we see Devon going through struggles that pretty much everyone can relate to on some level; as a senior in high school, she’s feeling the pressure to join extracurricular activities and apply to colleges and figure out the rest of her life and yet she feels lost and unsure of things. Meanwhile, Devon’s awkward cousin Foster has moved in with her family, which both upsets her sense of social order and has her trying to connect with this person who’s been more-or-less forced into her life. Between those things and her romantic struggles, Devon was really easy to relate to. Foster adds so much humor and lightness to the story, despite the difficult things he is going through. The loud smoothies at 5 in the morning, gym class, parties… you just can’t help but smile when he’s on the page, even as your heart is hurting for everything he has gone through.
Devon’s relationship with Cas is a great friendship but it also made me want to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to snap out of it. However, the slow growth of her relationship with Ezra, who is endearingly quiet, bad at conversation, and very much the opposite of the “typical” quarterback, was so enjoyable. It’s easy to understand Devon’s “obsession” with Cas and why it’s so hard for her to kick it to the curb for good. It also made the ending that much more rewarding because we’ve seen her make the wrong choice for so long.
I’ll be honest in saying that, while I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, I don’t remember much of anything about it so I can’t really speak to the relevance of that comparison. However, I loved the way Devon referred to Jane Austen works constantly and that they’re a part of who she is as a character. The fact that her passion for literature was embraced and worked into the story of a girl falling for the football star is awesome.
I was initially a little worried about the sports/football aspect of the story but it’s not at all overwhelming. Instead, I think it adds another degree of normalcy to the story. Even if you’re like me and don’t know much about football, it’s more about the role that it plays in cementing Devon’s relationships with Foster and Ezra than the game itself.
Overall, what I loved most about this book was the fact that it’s not “big” or dramatic but that it’s a story that could have happened to anyone and the little pieces of life that are represented are so accurate and relatable. I definitely recommend First & Then for fans of contemporary YA.