James Patterson and Emily Raymond
December 30th 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
“An extraordinary portrait of true love that will move anyone who has a first love story of their own. Axi Moore is a “good girl”: She studies hard, stays out of the spotlight, and doesn’t tell anyone how all she really wants is to run away from it all. The only person she can tell is her best friend, Robinson – who she also happens to be madly in love with.
When Axi spontaneously invites Robinson to come with her on an impulsive cross-country road trip, she breaks the rules for the first time in her life. But the adventure quickly turns from carefree to out of control after the teens find themselves on the run from the police. When Robinson suddenly collapses, Axi has to face the truth that this trip might be his last.
A remarkably moving tale which is personal to James Patterson’s own past, First Love is testament to the power of first love – and how they can change the rest of your life.” Source
Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this book – I really am torn. After having a quick nose on Goodreads, I can see a real marmite effect going on. People either seem to love it or hate it. Personally, I’m a bit of both. I found it hard to get into the book at first – I almost gave up – but I did manage to stick with it. Towards the end I wanted to keep reading, although the urge to turn the page was not as strong as it has been in the past with other books. My issue with the book was that, although the story was tragic, romantic and heartbreaking, I feel that it was not told particularly well – it could have been executed much better. A lot of people are comparing the storyline to the the Fault in our Stars and they are not wrong. It is very similar but this one feels like it is trying to do too much. Don’t get me wrong, some of the narrative was well-done, but to me it was not consistent. There are a couple of reasons why I feel this way which I shall explore below:
* Note – I HATE the idea of writing a bad review so I want to be clear that I am going to instead look at the novel critically. Being critical is a useful thing not only to the writer/s but also to me, an aspiring author, whose own writing will benefit from looking at other’s work with a critical eye. I know how much time and effort it takes to write a novel, and I do not want to trash anyone’s hard work – I will be honest and fair at all times.
The characters felt erratic in nature
I didn’t connect or relate to the main character Axi Moore at all. She was very erratic and spontaneous, but not in a good way. I was not convinced by her impulsive behaviour or her rash decisions. To me, her mindset was a bit all over the place, going from ‘I can’t do this, I’m so very gut wrenchingly scared’ to ‘Oh hang on a minute, I’m doing it – I’m not scared any more’ – and this happened often. One could argue that she is just a conflicted, confused and insecure character, who is easily persuaded by her love Robinson – which, in part she is – but for me, this is not enough. Unfortunately, I need a little more convincing.
Another thing that prevented me from connecting to Axi was that she wasn’t a particularly strong character. She wasn’t unlikeable but she was a bit ‘blah’. I am aware that this could be a personal thing, but I’d have liked to see her with a little bit more of her own will. She seemed to do everything that Robinson wanted her to, and didn’t seem to have the ability to say no or to make her own decisions. Again, if I were to look at this critically, one could argue that she is like this for a few reasons:
Robinson is ill and she wants to make him happy – fair enough, perhaps she is just being selfless.
It is her first love/serious relationship – in many first loves, you are willing to do anything and everything for someone, sometimes at the cost of your own identity and happiness.
She is young – perhaps she has little confidence due to her age, her past and her family situation, so she is very impressionable.
The above being said, there are explanations that can justify her behaviour. However, I still think there is something lacking. Perhaps I would have been able to connect with Axi more (see what I did there – her second name is Moore) if she had more self awareness between what she was saying she wanted and what she ended up doing. For example ‘I don’t want to do this, but I shall do it for Robinson’ rather than ‘ I don’t want to do this. Actually Robinson wants me to do it so I want to do it now’ .
One final thing, both Axi and Robinson have a distinct lack of guilt throughout. They steal cars with little awareness for the consequences. This could be in part due to Axi’s naivety – to her she is only borrowing it – but I think she is old enough to know better. Personally, I think her character could have been made stronger if it were to instead take the cars not out of naivety, but to take them because she feels the world owes her something – this to me would have felt more convincing and made for a more dynamic character.
When I look at Robinson as a character, although I was not in his head, I feel like I know him more than the narrator Axi. This was not only because Axi spoke about him often and affectionately, but also because I feel he was a more developed character. He was strong willed, knew what he wanted and I felt like he was more authentic. Perhaps it is easier to show to the reader a character that is not the narrator, and much more difficult to develop the character from who’s eyes you are seeing the story – I shall bear this in mind with my own novel. I do not want my narrator to be blinded by his love at the cost of developing him as a character.
The narrative was oftentimes broken and disjointed
I feel like that narrative jumped about a lot in both the tense it was told and the order of events. Patterson and Raymond seemed to cram a lot in – it was rushed and much of it was done as narrative summary. This could be a reason why I felt a bit disconnected the whole time I was reading.
One bit that really stood out to me in a bad way was the ending when Axi was describing the downhill events leading to Robinson’s death, in particular, this paragraph:
And then we walked outside, into the soft summer air, and she showed me how to deadhead the roses so they’d bloom all the way until late fall. When we came back, we had armfuls of blossoms, enough to put in every room.
The Point is, life with Robinson’s family would have been perfect if only Robinson hadn’t been getting sicker, minute by minute. It were as if being back at home allowed him to finally stop pretending he was all right.
One minute she was walking into the kitchen after flower picking with his mum, the next minute, she was talking about something else. I was left extremely confused. And later on – one minute she thinks she has woken up and he has passed away, the next minute he is alive, and then he has passed away for real, all within a couple of paragraphs. This may have been an attempt to introduce some conflict and panic (it worked, I did feel like it was too soon which I guess is a good thing!), but I am not convinced it was executed as well as it might have been.
Some parts were profound and touching, but other times it seemed to be trying too hard to be these things.
All the above being said, I finished the book, and at the end, I did feel sad. I enjoyed it once I got going, and I do not regret reading the book at all. Like I said before, there is a good story there, but the style of writing may not be to everyones taste.
The acknowledgement (below) really stood out to me and has stayed with me since I read it for the first time. The story is based on Patterson’s own personal experiences and this is very special. You can read more about this here.
Reading this really hit home and is the most real, raw and emotional part of the entire book – this is of course because IT IS real. After reading it, I set myself up for something amazing, which the story failed to deliver in comparison. Maybe Patterson just wanted this story, his story, written and recorded. I know it sounds stupid and obvious, but as the sayings goes ‘write for yourself’ because ‘you cant please everyone’ – perhaps this is exactly what Patterson and Raymond did – and what everyone should be doing.
Heather has read books by Patterson in other genres and has enjoyed them greatly, as has my mum and many other people I know, so do not be put off by my comments. As you all know, I am very much a love story/women’s/contemporary fiction kind of gal, so Patterson’s style for this genre was just not my cup of tea – it doesn’t mean that it can’t be yours.
In conclusion, a very confused and mixed bag of feelings and emotions from me regarding this book. My parting words would be that although I am not rushing to recommend this story, I will always encourage you to make up your own mind. My opinions and comments are personal to me and no way reflect or encompass the likes, dislikes, thoughts and feelings of other readers. I read this book. I finished this book. And I enjoyed it, but, bottom line is, it could have been better. And another little side note – Patterson is a great novelist, which I think goes without saying.