Two new YA novels from OS are First & Then by Emma Mills (US) and Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard (UK). Both books are published by Pan Macmillan.
First & Then has a more original plot and characters, with seventeen-year-old Devon who is a big Jane Austen fan (not that that’s unusual in YA literature or real life) and intriguing minor characters such as Devon’s fourteen-year-old cousin Foster who comes to live with her, pregnant teen Marabelle and a bevy of athletic boys.
Beautiful Broken Things has a more conventional storyline, which follows sheltered sixteen-year-old Caddy who goes to an all-girls’ school and this year wants to experience a ‘Significant Life Event’: hopefully finding a boyfriend even though she’s too self-conscious and lacking in confidence to do anything about it.
Caddy’s best friend Rosie goes to another school and the new girl there, Suzanne, seems to be displacing Caddy. Suzanne is very friendly towards Caddy but she clearly has a secret: she’s been abused.
Caddy starts breaking out: getting drunk, high and almost raped and, later, badly injured. It’s a cautionary tale about how the ‘good’ girl can be led astray, even by someone who has real worth. Hopefully teen readers can avoid Caddy’s experiences by reading about them vicariously.
Devon in First & Then feels that she knows author Jane Austen as a person who saw the truth in people and could challenge anyone’s lack of authenticity ‘in the most elegant way imaginable. Jane would tell it like it was’. What Devon doesn’t realise is that she may be acting like a character in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Devon’s teacher is concerned that she’s not putting enough effort into school so that she can get into the college she wants. She follows her best friend, footballer Cas around but he’s interested in other girls.
Joining the school newspaper where the editor sees that Devon’s ‘good at talking to people. There’s something about you that people like’ and developing her relationship with her younger cousin, Foster, become catalysts for change in Devon.
Foster is grieving and Devon champions him when football hero, Ezra, realises that Foster could become a young football star. One more minor character who breaks the mould is another good looking athlete, Jordan, who is a fascinating speaker and seems to genuinely appreciate Devon.
During the course of the novel, Devon realises that she’s been lumping people together, such as the glittery PE girls, rather than recognising them as individuals.
The protagonists in First & Then and Beautiful Broken Things both become more insightful.