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Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne


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Second First Impressions

by Sally Thorne
April 13, 2021 · William Morrow Paperbacks
Contemporary Romance

I read Second First Impressions at exactly the right time. A big theme in this romance is healing from trauma and coming out of isolation, and at the time I read it I had just scheduled my first Covid shot. This theme resonated so much with me I found myself crying while I read, big fat tears soaking into my pillow, but it was a cathartic cry and it felt good. There were also moments when this book made me laugh out loud. It’s a book of Big Feelings and I really needed it.

Ruthie Mirona is only twenty-five but she lives and works onsite at a posh retirement community called Providence. She comes from an extremely religious family, and they kind of fucked her up. Her dad, a reverend, was judgmental and distant, and her mom was so busy with charitable work that she didn’t bother to nurture Ruthie much growing up. Added to this, she was bullied as a child for her conservative clothes and strict upbringing.

As a result of this, Ruthie feels much safer among the residents of the retirement community than she does among people her own age. She’s a people pleaser and she enjoys making them happy and comfortable. She also has created her own safety bubble where she rarely leaves the property, and where she knows exactly what will happen each day and when. There are few surprises.

In contrast, Teddy Prescott, can’t seem to live in anything other than a constant state of change. He’s the son of the property developer who owns Providence (and a bunch of other properties), but he’s the black sheep of the family. He’s a tattoo artist who can’t stay in one place and who flakes out, ghosting people and his responsibilities.

Ruthie knows that the Prescotts might be looking to re-develop Providence and she worries about what will happen to the residents (and herself). Ruthie winds up getting Teddy a job as the assistant to two of her most demanding residents. Teddy wants to prove to his dad he can keep a job (and wants to earn enough money to buy into a tattoo parlor). Ruthie wants Teddy to see first hand how special the property is and convince his family to leave it unchanged. Oh, and Teddy will also live onsite, right next door to Ruthie.

The thing I loved about Teddy is that doesn’t fit the typical “scion to a billion dollar empire” hero trope. He’s not arrogant or entitled. His family doesn’t support him financially. He needs to grow up a little, but he’s always unfailingly kind. He’s kind to Ruthie, he’s kind to the residents, he’s kind to his employers, the Parlonis, two women who torment him with bizarre tasks. He handles it all with humor and grace.

Renata Parloni in particular is eccentric and hilarious, but while the novel allows her to be a source of humor, it never laughs at her. She made her name in fashion and she’s a larger than life personality. She asks Teddy to buy her a shirt, then declares it hideous and makes him bury it in the backyard. She has never forgiven Karl Lagerfeld for their ongoing feud and curses his memory.

So as Teddy learns to be responsible, he also helps Ruthie come out of her shell, while emphasizing that she shouldn’t have to change who she is.

There’s a scene where Renata, and Ruthie’s friend and temp, Melanie, convince her that she needs a makeover. Teddy goes along while they shop for new, “younger” clothes. He tells her:

“It hurts that you don’t know you’re lovely, exactly how you are. You don’t need to change. You don’t need to put on a dress, like it’s going to fix something. You don’t have anything that needs fixing.”

I really liked that this wasn’t a book where the heroine takes off her glasses and suddenly the hero realizes she’s beautiful. Teddy appreciates Ruthie for who she is right from the start.

Ruthie’s journey was really what sold the book for me though. She’s been hiding away because it makes her feel safe, but she realizes she wants more. She wants friends her age and to go out to dinner outside of the retirement community and to have a life that doesn’t revolve around people pleasing and constantly being on call, but stepping outside of that bubble is scary.

The conflict here is that Teddy is a flake, and Ruthie doesn’t expect him to stick around. He doesn’t expect to either, and he has his foot half out the door because he’s used to messing up and is living down to his own expectations.

While Ruthie’s journey is explored in detail, Teddy’s path to a more stable life feels shoe-horned in at the end. His growth seems to come simply by his waking up and realizing he doesn’t have to be this way; there’s not a lot of progression there.

So while I can’t say Second First Impressions is a perfect book, it was perfect for the moment I was reading it in. It’s funny and might make you cry (in a cathartic way), and has a hero whose kindness I truly loved.

I’m normally not a crier, but after a year of isolation the idea of being able to resume something like my old life left me feeling hopeful but also anxious. I hadn’t driven on the highway or in snow in a year and I had to resume my commute. I was used to a level of quiet when I worked now. I was feeling fragile and raw.

The theme of slowly exiting your safe space when the time was right was so timely and on point for me. It was because Teddy was so kind and gentle with Ruthie in her journey to come out of her shell, and appreciative of who she was without wanting her to change (but supporting her desire to) that this book worked. When Teddy and Ruthie begin to fall for each other, it made total sense.

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