Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne | Book Review


Rating: 1 out of 5.

Repeat after me: manipulation is not romance.

Genre: Contemporary, YA, Romance
Author: Sally Thorne
Published: March 2021
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 352 (paperback)

I’m honestly shocked at the number of books I’m coming across, particularly those angled towards the YA audience, that are jam-packed full of toxic relationship elements and romanticise dangerous behaviour. If anything, I’d start by saying please don’t give this to your/any teenager; this is teaching the wrong thing.

I was really excited going into this, and it was my first Sally Thorne book. But after finishing it, this will be my last Sally Thorne for sure.

This review will contain spoilers as I outline the problematic areas of this book, because these are things you should know going into this.

Our two main characters are Ruthie and Teddy. Ruthie is young and impressionable, working in administration at a retirement village. Teddy is the son of the owner who is painted a useless bad-boy, sent to work at the village as punishment. Naturally, he’s given lodgings in a cottage that shares a wall with Ruthie’s. Enter: predatory behaviour.

Almost immediately it’s hinted at that there’s going to be a romance between the two – a forbidden one at that. Every other character warns Ruthie off him, saying he’s no good and will only break her heart. She knows this, and tries to avoid his charms. But that’s really hard to do when he keeps turning up at her doorstep, inviting himself in and preying on her lonely heart by presenting himself as an irresistible manchild.

There are no respected boundaries in this book, Teddy is constantly invading Ruthie’s space (even when she doesn’t want him too), Teddy keeps jokingly threatening how hard it is to control himself around her, he touches her constantly (confusing her thoughts and distracting her from her first reaction, which is to stay away from him). This is emotional manipulation.

Not only that, but acts of possessive behaviour, where he grabs her neck, kisses her, rubs up against her, are peppered throughout the book whenever another guy shows interest in Ruthie. Despite the fact they are not ‘in a relationship’ at this point; in fact, Ruthie is actively trying to date other people.

He invites himself in to use her bathtub (he has his own) and things like this are ultra creepy – why does he feel the need to place himself somewhere where she’s been naked? He knows what he’s doing, he knows she’s alone, and he knows she has very limited experience (and an extraordinarily sheltered life) – so Ruthie is the perfect manipulation victim so that he can have his ego stroked.

Gaslighting is also present in the book, with scenes where Ruthie tries to call him out on his behaviour, telling him he’s hurting her feelings and is being manipulative. He then turns the scene around and tells her she’s in the wrong, that she doesn’t understand what he’s going through, and that she should feel sorry for him. This scenes ends in kissing and groping, who’s surprised at this point?

Stalking is a hefty point that bothered me. Teddy is obsessed with Ruthie and when he can’t find her he will retrace her steps (because he knows exactly what path she usually takes to do final checks around the village) before hunting her down (at a restaurant for example). She has no space from him, and as I said, no respected boundaries. He even gets close to her friend, Mel, thereby inserting himself into the friendship and having access to private information about Ruthie via Mel.

If I really want to get nitty gritty, it’s also suggested that Ruthie has OCD, without outright saying it, which was a poor representation of the disease. Ruthie has PTSD if anything, but mostly is coping with childhood trauma. She does not have OCD, OCD is not just someone maniacally locking doors because of past experiences; it is much more complex than that. It’s also used to make her seem weak/impressionable and something for Teddy to fix/manage. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are many facets of this that are toxic and deeply problematic. Sure, all books have their problems, but introducing such a predatory male character to a naïve young female character (likely to be relatable to many young people reading this book) is only sending the message that this is not only okay, but desirable.

It was ironic that one of the plot developments was that an actor on Ruthie’s favourite TV show is revealed at one point to be a sexual predator. Maybe Sally Thorne’s subconscious was trying to tell her something?

If I were to examine the book, problems aside, I still wouldn’t recommend this. The writing was shallow with characters that are two dimensional. The romance was insta-love and unbelievable. The plot was okay but nothing much happens.

Each to their own, but I think Second First Impressions is a good example of misrepresenting behaviours that has me worried for both the reader and the author. Cute turtles that are looked after by a cute boy do not make up for it.

Have you read Second First Impression?

Are you planning on reading it?

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