I almost fell out of my chair when I first heard the pitch for First & Then: Friday Night Lights meets Pride & Prejudice, aka two of my very favorite things! I’m happy to say that the story lived up to every bit of its pitch, which was a relief and so very awesome.
The first chapter is a bit ho-hum, but once I got past that I flew through the book in a day. I felt like I was transported back to my high school, all the worries I had about college, my secret not-so-secret crush on my friend, the hierarchy of the student body and fitting in. Emma Mills really captures that slice of high school life in a familiar, endearing way. It felt hip but not dated and I enjoyed Devon’s voice a lot.
My favorite part of the book was, of course, the characters. I feel like the adults could have been fleshed out more; they were pretty standard and cardboard. And there were some emotional, traumatic situations so I would have appreciated a little more nuance from the adults. But otherwise, I loved every single character. Each teen has layers to their personality and lots going on under the surface. The book digs deeper than I would have expected.
Foster might seem annoying at first but he’s perceptive and blossoms as the story progresses. Jordan is the super popular, cute football player, but he’s actually really nice and a good friend. Marabelle is a quirky pregnant teen (that isn’t ridiculed, huzzah) and reminded me a lot of Luna Lovegood. And Ezra. Oh Ezra. The most Darcy-ish not-Mr. Darcy I’ve ever met. I loved watching him open up! Even the peripheral characters managed to capture a wide swath of the high school social scene and prove that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Plus all the football was really fun.
This brings me to my other favorite part of the book: picking out the Pride and Prejudice references! It’s a really cute book even if you haven’t read/seen anything Jane Austen but the experience is vastly improved if you have. Devon is constantly waxing poetic about Jane and her writing, her romantic sensibilities, and she even references Sense & Sensibility many times. Plus there are parties and dances of course!
Not all of the characters lined up perfectly, but Devon is clearly the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennett and Ezra is the proud Mr. Darcy, and they played their parts to a T. Devon is by no means a mean person, but she is sheltered and judgmental, and she goes on this amazing character arc that felt very satisfying and believable. I especially loved her complicated relationship with her cousin Foster (much improved on Mr. Collins!), and their joint friendship with Ezra.
My main complaint is that Devon complains about a lack of kissing in Jane’s books, which is ironic because I would love just a few pages more of First & Then! It’s a slow burn and while I didn’t get major swoons, I loved Ezra and Devon together. They have this chemistry and regard for one another that just felt… right. Meant to be. Which is how I feel about Mr. Darcy and Lizzie.
If you love football, Jane Austen, banter, evolving high school friendships, and a touch of romance, you’ll fall in love with First & Then like I did. It’s a perfect book for fall!
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.