This was a bit different than I expected, but in a good way. The paranormal elements took a backseat to the storytelling and relationships - they were there and used once in a while to emphasize a plot point or to move things along, but they weren't the basis of the story. Now I'm going to be perverse and say that one of the things that bothered me a little was that I could have used more descriptions of some of those paranormal things. While one of my pet peeves is descriptive info-dump, I didn't have much of a mental image of some things. There really isn't a specific time established for the story, but it felt a lot like a late 1800's western so I could imagine most of the normal things.
The relationship between Chase and Amethyst is very sweet and built on respect the two have for each other. There's almost no physical contact between the two for the majority of the story, but there didn't need to be - the romance was in the way they talked to each other, the little physical gestures they made toward each other and the way the usually guarded and tough Chase started to fall in love with Amethyst. Amethyst makes a great Western heroine - tough, ready to get dirty and not afraid to do anything for Chase.
There's a nice supporting group of characters here too - Chase's Weren pack is a lot of fun, acting very much like a group of brothers who like to play jokes on each other and fight but also love each other and would do anything for one another. Amethyst's group of friends turned out to not be as helpless as they originally seemed and in particular, Sally and Peter ended up shining.
This was a very romantic story with lots of adventure, a bad guy and a lesson about prejudice. The main characters were instantly likable and from the start I was waiting for the two of them to figure out how to get together. I confess to wanting a little more than a G-rated version of their relationship, but I still left the story happy.
Alex and Seth have been best friends since childhood, when she rescued him from bullies. Now they’re older and in college and Alex’s feelings for Seth have changed. She’s gone from loving him to being in love and would even settle for being a part of his active rotation of dates, but they’re all a front and she knows it. He’s gay and there’s no way he’ll love her the way she wants, as much as she wishes for it.
Seth is one of those pretty golden boys who girls flock to and other guys can have whole conversations with just by way of fist bumps and jock talk over beer. Alex has been floating in his orbit, content to be the one he tells his secrets to, even if it means she’s also relegated to the role of his tagalong, designated driver and wallflower. Seth has developed a crush on a football player and it’s dangerous – coming out would be the end of the world for him, so he grabs yet another vapid cheerleader to date, leading Alex to start pushing the bounds of their friendship.
I Loved You First is a pretty timeless story at its heart: girl loves boy, boy doesn’t return her feelings, girl sets out to find herself. Jacobs does a fine job adding in contemporary themes, although I’m worried about the exclusion of some things (more on that later).
It’s never shown why Alex is so dependent on Seth, how it happened, if he encouraged it or what. She’s generally deferential to him, and I had mixed feelings about whether I should hold it against him or not. Seth’s crush for the football player is revealed at a fraternity party and after he’s beaten up, his relationship with Alex changes drastically. He really starts treating her awfully, hot and cold, but by then, I pitied him (this is also the “more on that later”).
Alex was frustrating, irritating, confusing and I wanted to give her a hug most of the time, at least when I didn’t want to elbow her in the side. Her narrative voice repeated things that bothered me sometimes and I’m not sure if it was meant to tell me that it was something she obsessed about or what. She thought frequently about heights (hers and other people’s) and the size and food consumption of the football player that she revenge-dated. I liked that she was self-aware of how much she was living in Seth’s shadow even as she kept stepping back in it and that she’d force herself to move out again even if it was doing something not particularly bright. Even when Seth didn’t want her as his friend, she stood by him, even when it could have hurt her own reputation and lost her new friends which she was brave enough to go make on her own. On the other hand, I think she let him down big time with what she didn’t do for him. Which leads me to the “more on that later.”
For the obvious reasons when a professional hears someone stating that they’re going to commit suicide, they’re bound to do something. Alex is no professional, Seth obviously didn’t want anything done and I don’t want to spoil things – that’s not what I’m trying to do. But I didn’t like the message that what could have been a very serious suicide attempt was averted and Seth’s best friend did nothing. Risking my very best friendship, I would have done something. Forced him to call a professional, stood over him while he called a hotline, hauled his ass down to the campus health center in the morning to get him to talk to someone, called his parents if it came down to it. I’d love my friend enough to risk losing it all to save him. That, combined with Seth’s ultimate decision at the end just felt a little safe to me. The story was good and the characters were strong enough to take the hard road and maybe a rougher ending, I thought.
Who knew, me not demanding a hearts and flowers ending!?
None of the characters in the story were painted in black and white, not even the homophobic football players who were meant to be pitied. In the end, I was sad for many of the characters: the bigoted bullies, Seth for having had to live in shame and fear when it wasn’t necessary and Alex for having lost too much of herself in him for too long. There was also happiness – Alex had a wonderful new friend and saw that there was an Alex beyond Seth. It seemed a little melancholic though because of the way it got there.
I couldn’t stop reading once I started, having to follow all of these flawed, compelling people on their journey.