This book wasn’t quite a touchdown for me.
First & Then by Emma Mills is a young adult contemporary book that follows Devon Tennyson who searches for some extracurriculars to boost her college applications, harbors a (not so secret) crush on her best friend Cas, and attempts to steer clear of her annoying freshman cousin, Foster.
First & Then is the second book by Emma Mills that I have read, Famous in a Small Town was the first. In Famous in a Small Town, I was put off by the initial slow start. While I appreciated the emotional ending, for me, it felt like a lot of work for a little reward. As a result, it only ended as an average read for me. My experience with First & Then was fairly similar.
One of the aspects of this book that I enjoyed were the complexities of the relationships between the characters, specifically Devon and her cousin, Foster. I liked how their relationship grew and changed throughout the novel and how they influenced how each other grew and changed individually. While I do think some characters individually needed a little something extra to make them memorable, Emma Mills is always successful when creating meaningful and realistic relationships between characters.
One of the issues I had with this book was the pacing. While some people may not mind a lot of groundwork for emotional pay off at the end of the book, it isn’t my favorite style of pacing. This seems to be a trend in books by Emma Mills, and personally, it isn’t a structure that I enjoy but other readers may enjoy. Although the emotional impact the ending of her books has makes me want to boost my overall rating higher, when I look back, I don’t remember that same feeling that I had during the first half of the book.
Another aspect of this book that slightly annoyed me were several cliches that we see a lot of in young adult fiction. I thought this book would have been written in 2010 for all of the tropes that existed in this book. I got a big “not like other girls” vibe from Devon and I didn’t like how she talked about the freshmen girls. While every senior expresses their dislike for freshmen, she particularly focuses on the girls and states that they look like “prostitots” as they look young, but tie their shirts up and use a lot of makeup to feel older. This isn’t a passing joke, as she uses the term throughout the novel, even as she gets to know some of the girls. Devon is a huge Jane Austen fan, occasionally mentioning what Jane would think. This was also huge back in the day in YA, but for me, it really didn’t go with Devon’s personality. Plus, it led to that moment where the love interest reads a Jane Austen book to impress the lead, which is too overdone for me.
Overall, First & Then was an average book for me. While I liked the relationships between the characters, the characters themselves didn’t wow me. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.