First & Then

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
First & Then Book Poster Image
Predictable but engaging high school romance.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some Jane Austen titles and themes from her work; a few plot points and characters from Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility mentioned.

Positive Messages

Don't make yourself different for someone else. You can't change yourself or others to try to force love to happen, and would you want to be with someone you had to make love you? You love something or someone because it makes you feel all kinds of things, both positive and negative; loving doesn't mean being happy all the time.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Devon, 17, is a bit aimless but does well academically and socially. As she matures she learns empathy for others, and finds something worth striving for; taking the easy route isn't good enough anymore. Cousin Foster, a freshman, is odd but dealing with past tragedy. He's fairly easygoing but insightful and gets right to the point. Love interests Ezra and Cas are good models for sportsmanship, loyalty, and support.

Violence

Blood from nosebleeds mentioned a couple of times. A player is tackled and knocked unconscious at a football game.

Sex

Teens talk about having sex. Kissing briefly described once or twice. A minor teen character is pregnant. Past making out mentioned. Feminine hygiene products and condoms in a store mentioned.

Language

Frequent:  "ass," "asshole," "bitch," "bulls--t," "crappy," "damn," "d--k," "d--khead," "f--k" and variations, "hell," "holy s--t," "s--t" and variations, "piss." Uses "PT" to stand for "prostitots" in reference to younger female students who are into makeup and fashion.

Consumerism

Fast food, tech, car, TV, movie, mall, and video game products mentioned usually to establish mood or character, a few seem gratuitous. Author is vlogger Elmify and cohost of YouTube channel How to Adult; kids who read the flap may check out these outlets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen drinking at parties taken for granted, and some drunken behavior is narrated. Narrator usually chooses soda, possibly because she's driving. Mention of two past incidents of teens dying in drunk-driving accidents. Faint smell of weed mentioned. Speculation of a distant relative possibly addicted to drugs. A teen smokes at a school event, seemingly out in the open. Glowing tip of a cigarette used in simile.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that First & Then is a high school romance that takes the popular tack of setting Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the present. Debut author Emma Mills is also the vlogger Elmify, and she cohosts the YouTube channel How to Adult; kids who read the bio on the flap may want to check her out. There's lots of strong language, including "s--t," "f--k," "d--k," and variations of each. Teens drink alcohol at parties and there's some drunken behavior, though main character Devon usually chooses soda. Past teen deaths from drunk driving are mentioned. Sexy stuff is light, with teens talking about romance and whether to have sex and a few kisses briefly described.

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What's the story?

FIRST & THEN introduces high school senior Devon, who's been secretly in love with her best friend Cas since forever and is always hoping that someday Cas will see her in the same light. When Foster, her freshman cousin, comes to live with Devon's family, he quickly befriends Ezra, the aloof, arrogant, all-American captain of the football team. Now it seems her irritating cousin and Ezra are everywhere Devon turns. So in the midst of deciding about college, trying to pad her extracurriculars, and endlessly rereading Jane Austen, how does Devon end up agreeing to go to homecoming with Ezra instead of Cas? As she learns to see things from others' points of view, she also learns to see herself more clearly. But can she figure out what she really wants?

Is it any good?

Debut author Emma Mills creates an engaging update to Pride and Prejudice that teen romance fans will enjoy. There's little suspense about the outcome for those familiar with Jane Austen's original, but Devon is a relatable character whose authentic voice keeps the pages turning. Although it lacks Austen's emotional depth, it's a solid, lively entry in the romance genre.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why we love to read romances. Do you like escapist ones or more realistic ones such as First & Then?

  • Have you read Pride and Prejudice or seen any of the TV or movie adaptations? What similarities and differences do you notice in the story or the characters? If you haven't read any Jane Austen yet, would you like to now? What intrigues you about it?

  • Do you agree with Ezra about deserving to win because you're better? Are there times when the team or player who's not the best should win? Have you ever let someone win who wasn't as good as you? Why, or why not?

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