First Comes Love by Emily Giffin - A NetGalley Review

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
Publisher: Ballantine Books - June 28, 2016
Description from the publisher:
Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. 

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.

This book held a lot of potential for me. I enjoyed Giffin's books back in the day, over 20 years ago, with the Something Borrowed series. The characters in this book are again my contemporaries, women hovering around 40. Family drama and secrets are always intriguing fodder for books, in my opinion. However, this one just didn't work for me.

It is possible for me to like a book even if I don't like the main characters (I actually liked Gone Girl!), but it IS unusual. The sisters in this book were beyond unlikable, and moving into utterly frustrating territory. I understand that they dealt with a tragedy that altered them, and the course of their lives, forever. Yet, I still found older sibling Meredith's rage inexcusable. She was insufferable and I dreaded picking up the book to see what she would get bent out of shape about next. I, too, have dealt with unimaginable loss at an early age (my father passed away at 40 and I was only seven). Maybe it was a personal affront to me, that she dealt with her grief by being so awful, and I can't imagine being that way toward my brother, or vice versa. Maybe it's because I do not have a sister, and really don't get the heightened rivalry that characterizes many same sex sibling relationships. Either way, it was a complete turn off for me and it ended up being a terribly depressing read - not at all what I was expecting from a big summer release from Emily Giffin.

There were also several underdeveloped story lines that I think had potential and could have elevated the book. I wish there would have been more drama and interaction with Josie's ex (who's daughter ended up being her student) and his wife. The relationship with her best friend Gabe, and his girlfriend who makes a big dramatic splash, was rife with possibility and then she just fades out of the picture.  These complex relationships take a major backseat in favor of the bond Josie forms with Pete via online dating, which becomes a rather inane story arc. I also felt as if the main characters' parents and their drama (divorce, alcoholism) could have been more fleshed out to give the daughters some more context for THEIR drama. Alas, they seem important in the beginning of the book, but then sort of disappear.

In the end, I thought that the themes she was going for were interesting: that love can change in a marriage, the definition of family is different for everyone and we should all carve our own path. All great notions, however, I wish these issues had been fleshed out with much more empathetic characters.


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