You Say it First

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
You Say it First Book Poster Image
Standard romance of opposites deals with drinking, suicide.

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Educational Value

Readers learn who the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate was and a few biographical details about her.

Positive Messages

Having something turn out badly in the past shouldn't keep you from ever taking risks again. Growing, changing, and having new experiences mean taking risks that are worth it, no matter what happens. You can't avoid conflict and hide your real feelings forever. It's OK to be honest about your ideas and feelings, even if they cause arguments sometimes. The truth always comes out in the end, so it's best to be honest from the start.

Positive Role Models & Representations

On the surface, high-school senior Meg has it all together. She's a good role model for academic achievement and being a loyal friend. Under the surface, though, she's a bit of a mess. She's anxious to avoid conflict at all costs and not sure anymore if she still wants the same things in life she's always wanted in the past. She learns that it's OK to be honest about her true feelings and preferences, and that it's OK to ask for help. Colby is afraid to take emotional risks and doesn't believe anything will turn out OK, so what's the point in even trying? But he challenges Meg, and learns that it's OK to try something new even if it doesn't work out. Parents are distant figures but come through in the end. Two adults, a man and a woman, are each positive representations of same-sex relationships. A minor but positive character is Korean. Some names of minor friend characters suggest some amount of diversity, but all the main characters are White.


Colby's father killed himself 10 months before the story begins. Colby remembers discovering his body with emotional details but no direct descriptions of violence. A fight with punching and kicking mentions feeling spit or blood. Pain from injuries like a broken nose, black eye, and bruised ribs is mentioned. A drunk adult falls down some stairs, a small amount of blood and a leg at an odd angle are described, but there's a safe resolution. In a dream a dog tracks blood into a house.


Kissing and caressing are briefly described. Having sex is implied by remembering "secret noises" and thinking about how "it finally happened." Teens make out in a motel room. They stop before they have sex and fall asleep together on the bed. There's a good example of asking for consent while making out. Meg mentions that she had sex with her previous boyfriend. An older teen claims to have had sex when he was 15. A teen thinks about masturbating in the shower and getting erections. A teen remembers bleeding through white shorts when she got her period once. A brief memory of a mom having a late-term miscarriage. A teen mentions a same-sex kiss in the past in being open to the possibility again if the right person came along.


"P---y," "d--k," "f--k," "bulls--t," "s--t," "boner" (calling names), "a--hole," "bitches," "ass," "nutless," "idiot," "douchebag," and "pissant."


Lots of food, beverage, household, and retail brands mentioned to establish character and location.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Meg sees her mother drinking to excess. Once her mother picks Meg up while drunk and driving erratically. Once while stumbling around Meg's mother falls down a flight of stairs and is hospitalized. Meg tells the EMT that her mother is an alcoholic. Older teens drink beer, hard lemonade, and from a cola bottle that's mostly rum. Once a teen acts drunk while drinking sparkling wine from a bottle after a wedding. Drunken or risky behavior is rare and there aren't specific consequences except getting into arguments, friendships ending, things like that. A friend lights a joint.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Katie Cotugno's You Say it First is the story of a long-distance romance between 18-year-olds Meg and Colby, opposites who happen to encounter each other on a voter registration call. One has  already graduated high school, the other is a senior. The older teens in the story talk frankly about sex, using strong language like "d--k" and "jerking off." But nothing is directly narrated or graphic. There's some kissing and making out. Teens sleep on the same bed in a motel after making out, but don't have sex. Other strong language includes "f--k," "p---y," "bitches," and "bulls--t." Parental loss is a strong theme. Colby lost his father to suicide less than a year ago. Meg's parents recently divorced. Both of them are present, but her mother struggles with alcohol use. Teen drinking is pretty normal, beers, hard lemonade, and once a cola bottle mostly full of rum. Teen excess is shown only once or twice, and there's not much in the way of consequences. Violence is rare and isn't graphic. Colby remembers finding his father's body when no one else was home. Meg's mother falls down the stairs while drunk and is hospitalized. There's one fistfight with punching and kicking; pain and injuries are briefly described. An adult man and adult woman are each in positive same-sex relationships. Meg mentions briefly that she kissed a girl once and would be open to the possiblity again if the right person came along. Brief mention that a mom had a late-term miscarriage when the teen was in first grade.

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What's the story?

YOU SAY IT FIRST is about a long-distance romance between opposites. Meg lives in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb, goes to an elite high school, and was accepted into the Ivy League for college. Colby lives in rural Ohio, barely graduated high school, and carefully avoids getting his hopes up about anything. They "meet" when Meg calls Colby's house for her job trying to help people register to vote. The call goes badly, and Meg can't leave it like that. So against all the rules she tracks down Colby's number and calls him again to apologize. Somehow talking to a stranger makes it easier for both Colby and Meg to open up to each other in ways they can't with the people they've known forever. Soon they're talking for hours every day, and realizing that as impossible as it seems they're falling for each other, hard. But they live an eight-hour drive apart. Impossible, right?

Is it any good?

Romance fans will enjoy this pretty standard, opposites-attract, long-distance romance by veteran author Katie Cotungo. It's rather predictable, and at first the characters come across more as types than as real people. But as we get to know them they become relatable and more fleshed out. Meg's problems are mostly "first world," but as she changes and grows she becomes someone we hope will really make a difference. Colby comes from a less-privileged background, and learning more about him, especially about his father's death, make him easy to sympathize with. Both main characters' journeys give the story some depth and keep it from being just a breezy, fluffy romance.

It's also enjoyable to see how Colby and Meg challenge each other. Sometimes the sparks really do fly. Strong language, excessive alcohol use, the aftermath of suicide, and other mature themes make it best for high-schoolers and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about alcohol use in You Say it First. Is the depiction of teen drinking accurate? Is it OK? What about Meg's mom? How does her drinking affect her and Meg?

  • How did you feel about the strong language? Is it a big deal? Is it realistic?

  • Have you been affected by suicide, or do you know someone who has been? Where can you get help? How can you help someone who's hurting?

Book details

  • Author: Katie Cotugno
  • Genre: Romance
  • Topics: Friendship, High School
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Publication date: June 16, 2020
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 17
  • Number of pages: 368
  • Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: August 12, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

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