Review of ‘The First Love’ by Erinne Bates
‘The First Love’ by Erinne Bates is a wonderful lesbian debut book by an indie writer. I always applaud their bravery for going the self-publishing route because it sure isn’t the easy way. But I love and support the independent writers because they can surprise you with a real gem sometimes. I would say this is one of those.
This is a sweet coming of age romance, well, at least at the beginning of the book. In the summer of 1986, Calli (then almost 18) gets riding lessons from Justine (then almost 23), and what looks to be a one-sided teenage crush ensues. When Calli’s mom invites Justine (who’s from Ireland) to a temporary board with them, Calli is beside herself with excitement. When Justine unexpectedly begins a slow game of seduction, everything changes for young Calli.
That whole part was fascinating. Their young love was sweet, but we all know that would not be enough to keep the book going. So drama kicks in when Justine suddenly disappears from view, coaching the US Equestrian Olympic team. A devastated Calli has some growing up to do, and she does. We follow her over the next years (all be it in much less detail) where she pines for Justine but eventually finds love again.
At first, I was worried that the switch from show to tell would continue, but when Justine suddenly makes an appearance, we get some much-needed answers. Justine is like an elusive spirit, always just out of reach.
There was only one person I knew who said ‘hello’ that way.
“It’s you,” I felt caught between a cold sweat and finding something valuable I had lost many years ago.
“You’ll never guess where I am.”
Another big part of the book is set in Versailles, France, where Calli (now 38 and a writer) spends 3 months in a bed-and-breakfast to work on her next novel. When she meets Dutch art student Fenne, Calli did not plan to open her heart to love once more, but this quirky young woman worms her way in regardless. And then, just like that, Justine pops up again.
The author really keeps me guessing throughout the book and we are not sure who Calli will eventually end up with (and I really liked that). A very original love story, indeed. Well done!
Themes: lesbian debut book, first love, seduction, drama, writer, France, Versailles, “Als u op mij wacht, kom ik voor u…” (If you wait for me, I will come for you…)
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.