Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Review: First Date by Melody Carlson

First Date (The Dating Games #1)First Date by Melody Carlson
Publisher: Revell
Publish Date: October 15, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN: 9780800721312
The Dating Games #1

My Review:
First date is the story of five girls, Emma, Cassidy, Abby, Bryn and Devon and their quest to go on a first date. I love Melody Carlson and wanted to read this book to see how she handled the friendship dynamic and also to see how the whole idea of girls that are Juniors going on their first date.

Overall I think this was a fun story. I really had to suspend disbelief though to think that 5 girls who were witty, smart and mostly attractive had never been on dates. Even worse was suspending disbelief that guys would listen to a teacher and decide not to date during their Junior and Senior years. Maybe things are different now and different at a Christian high school, but 20 years ago, I know we were all about dating in 11th and 12th grade.

So once you get past that let me move onto what worked for me in the story. The girls and their friendship worked. Why? Because Devon is the new girl but she's been friends with Emma forever. So when she starts at Northwood Academy she falls right into the role of Emma's best friend and becomes part of her group. But of course this causes problems. Cassidy had been Emma's best friend so now she's feeling left out. All of this is normal. Also when one or two do something in the group at least one of the others becomes paranoid and feels left out. Also normal. So I think Ms. Carlson really captured the girl group dynamic well in this novel.

Another thing I liked is when the girls decided to form their secret club and go after the boys, a couple of them needed makeovers. The nice thing is even though Devon was a little outspoken and could seem mean, she and the others could always mainly play up and fix small things about the girls. Just a little makeup that suited them or a wardrobe update. So it wasn't as much about looks as it was appearance. Here's one quote that I loved:
"Maybe I don't base my self-worth on my looks," Emma said. "I know I'm smart and I have a few talents. I'm a good artist. I'm not a beauty queen. I never will be. Besides that, it's not healthy to obsess over your appearance."

As far as characters go, Devon was a little brash and unlikeable in the beginning but as the book progresses she becomes more likeable. Cassidy seemed too goody-two-shoes, but by the end of the book she was one of my favorite characters. Emma and Abby are the sweet girls, and Bryn is the attractive one that offers competition for Devon. They all have their niche and I liked getting to know each one. I found ways to relate to each one as well. I was sometimes the loner like Cassidy, feeling a little left out. I was Emma thinking people should see me for what was inside not outside. I was Devon, looking for a good time and wanting to liven things up at times. I am Bryn now because she found ways to improve herself, by working out, updating her clothes but she's not completely obsessed with herself. And finally I was Abby because she respects her parents, has a tight-knit family and constantly wants to please them. So I think girls or adults reading this would find something relate-able in each girl. Not necessarily what I did, but there are many facets to the girls.

Concerning the plot, again suspending disbelief, it's mainly centered around the girls getting the boys interested in taking them to the homecoming dance. Along the way their are bumps. The girls learn lessons. Christianity is discussed but in a low-key kind of way. There are examples of the girls going to church and Devon's not going to church. There is talk of prayer and Cassidy consults with a youth group leader about dating. All of this worked for me. Melody Carlson is a Christian writer so all of this was expected.

What I didn't like. The whole not dating in high school thing. It was just hard to wrap my head around that. Also sometimes the secret club and the tactics the girls used just seemed a little middle school. But that was just me. These definitely weren't technical problems with the book, just things that bothered me personally. I still enjoyed reading the book.

All-in-all, First Date was a quick read and an interesting introduction to Ms. Carlson's new series. I will be reading the next book just to see what is up next for the girls because I really felt a connection to each one. The characters were interesting and while the plot was a little out there, it was fun.

I'll leave with one of my favorite profound statements in the book, it's a little long, but I love it:

This is when Cassidy talks to Julia, one of her church's youth leader about whether she should be dating or not since she made a personal pledge not to date in high school. Julia's answer is:

"I think you need to ask God those questions. For sure, if God tells you not to date, then you better listen and obey. But sometimes we run ahead of God and start making up rules for ourselves. Rules that aren't eally from God. It's almost like we think we can impress God, which is totally ridiculous. The next thing we know we're caught up in legalism - you now where you make a rule and think God is going to be pleased with you for keeping it. That's not how it works. That's how religion works. But God doesn't want us to be religious. He wants us to have a relationship with him. Not a bunch of rules."

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

*** Available October 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.  ***

About the Book:
Five high school friends have one thing in common as they start their sophomore year: none of them have ever been on a "real" date. With homecoming looming, they make a pact and start a secret club they call the DG (Dating Game). They're sworn to secrecy--and to purity--but the club is their way to set each other up on their first dates so they can report back to the DG. Of course, they all make different choices about how to deal with their parents and how to act on their dates, and they discover that they all have totally different experiences. Still, the things they learn about boys and dating will stick with them throughout high school. 

Bestselling author and teen favorite Melody Carlson starts off her newest series with a good dose of fun, tackling two topics teen girls love to read about--friends and boys.


***I received this book from the publisher for an honest review.  I was not compensated in any other way except receiving the book for free.  ***