When We First Met by Norma Fox Mazer is a really lovely YA romance. It’s all the more remarkable for having two aspects I normally don’t like (love at first sight, and teenage romances that take themselves very seriously) and yet in this particular case it really does work.
Jenny and Rob feel an immediate connection the moment they see each other at a school assembly, a connection that continues in their first conversation–at least until Jenny learns Rob’s last name, and realizes that his mother was the drunk driver who two years ago killed Jenny’s older sister. Unable to stop herself from continuing to see Rob, Jenny soon finds herself torn between her love for him, and her love for her family.
This is, essentially, a very cleverly-done modern-day Romeo and Juliet. (In case you don’t catch it yourself, one of the characters makes a comparison–plus Rob’s last name is Montana.) There aren’t many modern-day feuds, so the particular family history of the car accident is an excellent way to modernize that element.
Both mothers become a powerful part of the book as we see how the accident devastated both of them. Mrs. Pennoyer, Jenny’s mother, is convinced that Rob’s mother is soulless and evil, but when we meet Mrs. Montana, we see her as deeply human and deeply affected by what happened. Both women have elements of a villain in them–Mrs. Montana’s action, Mrs. Pennoyer’s refusal to forgive–but Mazer’s exploration of both women’s pain makes them both…”sympathetic” may be strong, but there’s a lot of understanding there.
Jenny and Rob have their own complexities, trying to deal with the history between their families, and the present effects of their relationship on their two families. Jenny has some powerful insights on what it means to have lost her older sister, and in her continuing relationship with the rest of their family.
I think the “love at first sight” element of the book works for me because it’s really more connection at first sight, and we still get to watch Rob and Jenny fall in love as they learn more about each other. Mazer shows their bond, their relationship, and their feelings so well that I believe in the intensity of the relationship–and it does help that they’re eighteen, not fourteen (like Juliet).
Jenny’s process of trying to balance her own needs and dreams, and her loyalty to her family, is a really beautiful theme of the book. In a way it’s a coming of age story, though I feel like it’s an angle I haven’t seen. The book is about a romantic relationship, but I think it’s just as much about Jenny’s realization of herself as an individual, while part of a family.
The funny thing is, I’m not much of a fan of Romeo and Juliet (always preferred Hamlet) but this retelling is excellent. No swordplay–instead, lots of emotional depth and powerful themes. Recommended!
I’ve got nothing! Literally, I’ve never seen so few results when I Googled a book title. Strange…
Buy it here: When We First Met