Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday Review: The First Boy I Loved

The First Boy I Loved
By Cheryl Reavis
Bell Bridge Books
Release Date:
January 16, 2014

Since her husband’s death, Gillian Warner has been haunted by a past that refuses to stay buried and secrets that belong to a time in her life before she became a wife, a mother, a grandmother—a past that belongs to a younger Gilly and her first love who died in Vietnam decades ago. When it turns out that her closest friend from her nursing school days is now living in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Gilly plans a month-long visit that she hopes will not only allow her to renew her friendship with June but also come to terms with her guilt and regrets and her “relentless remembering” of Ben Tucker. At the last moment, a separate family crisis gives Gilly a companion on her journey, her fifteen-year-old granddaughter Mae who is heartbroken over the betrayal of her first love.

One of the first people Gilly meets in Vietnam is A. J. Donegan, a Vietnam vet and expatriate who serves as a tour guide for guilty, grieving Americans who come to Vietnam to make peace with their pasts and the losses they cannot forget.  A. J., haunted by his own ghosts, knows that the peace the visitors hope to find will prove elusive. As Mae faces her own losses, A. J. shows Gilly the city as few visitors see it, including but not limited to the sites central to Tucker’s life there, and introduces her to residents who have their own memories and varying responses to the past. An attraction develops between them, but can two people whose pasts still claim them so inescapably find a future together?

In The First Boy I Loved, Cheryl Reavis speaks the language of the heart with grace and truth. She cuts past the differences that separate human beings by age and gender and race and reveals experiences we all share—the loss of innocence, the heartbreak of harsh realities, the regrets that never lose their sting, and the many facets of love that help us to survive and even triumph, scarred though we be by our journeys.

I’ve been a Cheryl Reavis fan for more than twenty years, and I regularly recommend her books to other readers. I was delighted to see a Reavis book I had not read listed in the NetGalley catalog and even more delighted that it lived up to every expectation. This book, more women’s fiction with a strong romantic element, will make you laugh, make you cry, and perhaps make you newly conscious of your own “relentless remembering.” Reavis’s deft hand with characterization is evident in her creation of Gilly and A.J., both of them so real I could almost touch them, but also in a wealth of secondary characters from the achingly adolescent Mae to the faithful friend June to the Vietnamese doctor who treats Mae with skill and compassion despite her dislike for Americans rooted in her father’s death in the American War.

Readers who demand a conventional HEA may not be satisfied with the ending, although I have difficulty imaging a more perfect conclusion than the last line, and the story will likely resonate with particular power for those who are old enough to remember the Vietnam War. But I highly recommend this book for anyone who values emotionally compelling stories and excellent writing.


Just seeing a new title from Cheryl Reavis left me with a smile on my face. Who are the authors that evoke that response from you?


irisheyes said...

Cheryl Reavis is one of those authors for me also, Janga. I've read a handful of her books and have always come away satisfied.

I think some of the other authors that elicit that reaction are Carla Kelly, Cheryl St. John, Sarah Mayberry, Robyn Carr, Mary Balogh and Lisa Kleypas.

Janga said...

I like your list, Irish. My list replicates most of the names on yours, but I would also add Eloisa James, Anne Gracie, Loretta Chase, Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Barbara Samuel, and Joanna Bourne. On the contemporary side, I would include. in addition to Reavis, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, Meg Benjamin, and a few others.