Ah, summer in paradise!!
…Ok, not really. I’m in Boston with a summer head cold, so not exactly ideal island getaway status. But still, I’m taking advantage of the beautiful weather with mornings spent reading on my balcony (and sneezing in between chapters).
Growing up in the Deep South, I took the five-month long summer for granted. Until I moved to New England several years ago and experienced a post-Easter blizzard, I had no idea what a blessing 90 degree April days were. Now, however, I take full advantage of the sun-filled days with morning runs, afternoons lazing on the Esplanade, and evenings grilling poolside. And, of course, beach reads.
Now, I think beach reads mean something a little different to each person. My “beach reads” actually usually consist of extra-long history books or literary blockbusters that I haven’t gotten around to yet this year (I.e. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs, or the mammoth A Little Life). However, a recent ARC read for NetGalley is a more typical beach read fare: First Comes Love by Emily Giffin.
Emily Giffin is a chick-lit rockstar. Her first book, Something Borrowed, was a blockbuster hit (and later, a poorly-rated blockbuster movie). Since then, she has consistently churned out books every two years or so, with various female protagonists dealing with some kind of relationship-focused issue.
True to form, this novel centers around two sisters, Josie and Meredith, and the fallout of their oldest brother’s tragic death 15 years ago. The younger sister, Josie, is the stereotypical “hot mess” of the family; school teacher by day, aging party-goer by night. She spends a lot of time (particularly at the beginning of the story) obsessing over her ex Will, who is now married and has a child that is in Josie’s class this year. Meredith, by contrast, seems to have her life picture perfect. She went to law school, married her brother’s best friend Noah, and has a charming daughter. However (as you might expect), everything is not as it seems. The novel centers on the tension between these two sisters and the effects their brother’s death has had on their lives.
When I was in high school, I was slightly obsessed with Emily Giffin’s books. I thought they were smart, witty, and insightful while still being accessible to the common reader. I scoffed at the critic’s use of “chick lit” to describe her books, because I felt like they evoked so much more (though, looking back, I cringe at how much I enjoyed a novel that glorified cheating couples). I read her entire biography on her author website, loving how she always wanted to be a writer (like me!) yet was responsible to pay off her student loans from law school before embarking on her artistic endeavors (like me! except, with dentistry instead of law).
As she churned out book after book dealing with domestic issues, however, I slowly faded out of my Giffin-entranced fog. I think the last one I read by Emily was Love the One You’re With, another story about monogamy (or lack thereof), and it honestly just didn’t appeal to me anymore. I passed by the next few of her releases at bookstores; however, when I skimmed the synopsis of First Comes Love, I had to request an ARC. And I’m thankful I did!
Part of the appeal was the location of the story (Atlanta, where I will be moving to in just a few weeks!) Part of the appeal was the sister dynamic, as I have a weakness for sister-centered stories. And part of the appeal was the storyline – it felt like Emily had finally started to branch off into new plot territory, and I always appreciate a shift in gear from a writer.
Some of the characterizations are flat – Josie and Meredith have a lot of stereotypical perfect child/problem child characteristics, and the storylines are influenced by these tropes. Some plot arcs are dropped halfway through the story too, which threw me off *SPOILER ALERT* – for example, why did the drama with Will seem to end without any dramatic climax? Also – and this is a problem I’ve had with past Emily novels as well – some lines in the book are almost laughably “basic white girl” sayings, and I really can’t tell if Emily is being tongue in cheek or earnest when she writes them. Either her writing is too subtle for me, or she’s been spending too much time in Buckhead Village.
Either way, it’s an enjoyable and true-to-form beach read for those that enjoy a relationship-driven, traditional story. Recommend drinking your basic white girl rose by the pool with your Instagram-worthy bikini while you turn the pages!
Read it if you’re into this genre of fiction. Skip if you’re not, because this story firmly rests in the “women’s fiction” category, though it’s smarter than most of the books in this category.
Who should Read it?
Girls who wear a lot of J. Crew and who enjoy Soul Cycle (and I’m not saying this with sarcasm, I love me some Jenna Lyons and tap-backs).