The First Move, by Jennifer Lohmann

31 Jan

Once again, this is all SLWendy’s fault: back when this book came out, she not only reviewed it, she gave it a B+ Is it any wonder I bought it shortly thereafter?

Of course, then it languished in the humongous TBR Mountain Range until this  month, when I thought I would read it for the TBR Challenge. Once I realized this is actually a 300 pages book, I ended up reading something else. I finished it since, though, and here’s the (once again loooooooooong) review.

The First MoveThe First Move, by Jennifer Lohmann

This is only Ms Lohmann’s second book, the second in a trilogy about the Milek siblings, and the first by her I’ve read. I have to say that I had a harder time with the characters than Wendy did—though not because I thought Renia was prickly, mind you.

Obligatory back cover blurb:

An unlikely encounter…but he’ll take it!

It seems like fate…or something! When Miles Brislenn spies the girl he had a crush on in high school—at his ex-wife’s wedding, no less—he can’t let the opportunity pass. He might not have had the courage to talk to Renia Milek back then, but he definitely does now. And that’s not the only thing that’s changed. Gone is the rebel Renia used to be. In her place is a beautiful woman who’s reserved, cautious…and holding on to secrets.

For Miles, this second chance with Renia is too important to let her past stand in their way. He’ll do whatever is necessary to help her accept her choices and move on—even if that means a salsa lesson or two! Because now that he’s made the first move, he wants the second to be hers.

It’s been some eighteen years since Miles and Reina attended the same high school. In the brief time they did, Miles never actually spoke to Renia—he was your typical geek, she was your typical goth/wild girl. He studied and was bullied, she exchanged sex for drugs. He lusted after her, she didn’t know he existed.

The chasm between them, however, is much deeper and wider than appearances: Miles had a reasonably stable and happy family life; Renia’s father, grandfather and one of her brothers had been killed by a drunk driver, and her mother had withdrawn from her three surviving children.

One day, Renia stops attending, though her siblings are still around. Rumors abound, but no concrete information is to be found. A couple of years later, Miles starts dating another girl—because her eyes remind him of Renia’s eyes. To further complicate matters, they get pregnant shortly after and, what with parents, shotgun, blah blah, they get married.

As it happens, it’s not a terrible marriage. The couple become good friends and love each other…well enough. Eventually though, Miles’ wife Cathy finds the true love of her life and the marriage disintegrates (with rather spectacular explosions, from what we learn later on), and it takes them a few years to come back to being friends as well as coparents. As the novel starts, Miles, Cathy and Sarah are once again a family—non-traditional and imperfect as all families are, but a family nonetheless.

Renia is the photographer hired for Cathy’s second wedding, and Miles recognizes her instantly. That’s one major crush right there, and to be honest, it creeped me out some: we are told Renia used heavy make-up at sixteen, now she has a “professional” image, which seems to imply discreet-to-little make-up, so it’s not outrageous to conclude that Renia-then looked markedly different from Renia-now, even without accounting for the normal growing up/aging process.

Seriously, eighteen years, no actual relationship of any kind, yet he knows who she is at one glance? More obsession than romantic torch carrying, as far as I’m concerned.YMMV, obviously.

This feeling made it very difficult for me to buy Miles’ current love for Renia, all the way to the end of the book.

And moving on to her: in short order we learned that Renia disappeared from school all those years ago because she was sent to another city, to live with her aunt for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Yes, indeed, boys and girls, drugs and sex are likely to result in an unexpected pregnancy.

In this case, the pregnancy scares Renia out of the spiral of self-harm she’s been in. She gets clean, though she’ll forever be afraid she might have harmed the baby between conception and confirming the pregnancy. Renia also makes the extremely difficult choice to give her baby up for adoption, both for the baby’s sake and her own.

Side note: I consider this THE most responsible and generous choice teenager mothers can make—most of these babies are actually adopted at birth, by people who want to be parents and who, in the majority of the cases, have ample means to provide well for the child. Most teenage mothers are ill-equipped, emotionally and financially, to do the same. Edited to add: apologies to all teenage mothers who manage to raise their children in a secure, safe environment, though I still believe you are the exception rather than the rule.

Back to the novel: Keep in mind that Renia was barely sixteen when she delivered her daughter. In the throes of adolescence, she demands that the adoption be closed; that is, that while her daughter may be informed of Renia’s identity and given contact information upon reaching majority, Renia herself will know nothing about the family or her child.

Fast forward to the present. Renia has spent many years struggling both with her decision not to have any contact with the adoptive parents and her child, and, in a very visceral level, with guilt over “abandoning” her baby and over keeping even her existence a deep, dark secret from…well, pretty much everyone in her life, including her best friend.

Frankly, I cannot imagine Renia’s pain—my stomach physically aches when I try to imagine being in her position, regardless of age. I can understand her conflict, though. Yes, giving her daughter up to loving parents was the best she could do for the baby, but would her now adult biological daughter feel the same? Would she feel abandoned, disposable, rejected? Would this young woman be accepting of the weaknesses, and forgiving of the sins, of a troubled teenager? Or would she be resentful of whatever consequences—perhaps health issues?—Renia’s rebellion might have brought her?

This struggle is more wrenching this year than ever before: that unknown baby is now an 18 year old woman, who may choose to call her birth mother, and Renia doesn’t know whether she wants that to happen or not.

It is then, as Renia is facing this most heart-wrenching pain that she and Miles meet again.

For me, the novel focuses on two things: Renia’s struggle to forgive herself and her mother, and to accept whatever decision her daughter makes, and Miles’ struggle to accept that Renia is not—and never was—the image he fixated on almost two decades ago, and that his own daughter, Sarah, is not a perfect (i.e., incorruptible) human being.

On the plus side, I liked that Miles was very supportive of Renia during this time, and not just with words. Also, Sarah as a normal (aka, flawed, moody, immature) teenager instead of an overgrown plot moppet. The romance, however? Yeah, didn’t quite gel for me.

Another negative for me was that Renia went around the same arguments a few too many times. Yes, I’m sure this is the case in real life, but I would have liked to see a bit more focus on how her feelings for Miles developed beyond “he’s supportive/accepting of me.”

All of this means that it has taken me almost three weeks to actually write the review, and I’ve struggled with the grade the whole time.

The First Move gets a 6.25 out of 10

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One Response to “The First Move, by Jennifer Lohmann”

  1. SuperWendy 31/01/2014 at 1:11 PM #

    Even though I loved this story, I loved it more as a “heroine’s journey” than a romance. I had issues with Miles, most of the same ones you did. I felt like he was more in love with the idea of his “dream girl” than the actual, physical woman herself – and that just….didn’t seem entirely healthy.

    But I’m such a heroine-centric reader that Renia flipped every single one of my switches. Plus, I have an adopted niece – so I brought a bit of my own baggage to the story. Man, and that scene where Renia and her mother FINALLY talk to each other? I was a mess. A crying, sobbing mess. So yeah, that B+ was mostly for Renia – who I adored.

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