Desert Isle Keeper
When We First Met
When I was in fourth grade, I had opportunity to take home some books that were being discarded from a local bookstore. When I picked up Norma Fox Mazer’s When We First Met, I thought, what the heck? Seventeen years later, I’m still glad I did.
Jenny Pennoyer is a pretty normal seventeen-year-old. She works at a burger place, goes to high school, and at home, has a large if distant family. Except that she’s missing a member of that family. Two years before, her older sister Gail had been taking her bike to the grocery store when she’d been hit and killed by a drunk driver. It was a trip that Jenny was supposed to make. Her family is still struggling with the loss, but it’s driving them farther apart instead of bringing them closer together. Her mother, wracked by grief, sends the drunk driver, a woman named Nell Montana, a red rose (red for blood) and a hate-drenched letter on the date of her daughter’s passing.
Days before the second anniversary of Gail’s death, Jenny sees the most beautiful young man in school. Just a glimpse; and he’s looking at her. “The face of an angel,” she thinks. A week later, after countless wordless exchanges in the halls, they finally meet. His name is Rob. Rob Montana. “Know anything about a red rose?,” he asks.
Their Romeo and Juliet story is both touching and real, portraying both their love and the things that tear them apart, but in a very subtle way, completely lacking in melodrama. The author’s light touch allows the reader to experience the joy and pain of perhaps the most difficult period of life, enhanced by the fury of emotions that tear apart a young couple struggling between love and their loyalty to their families.
Jenny is an extremely sympathetic character, moved by her first experience with love, while tormented by her feeling that she is betraying her family by being with Rob. And Rob is barely less likable, although he finds it hard to understand her family’s emotions at times. He adores Jenny as much as she loves him, and through her eyes we can’t help but feel for him as well. In addition – perhaps as important – we see through the eyes of several other characters, including their respective families, making them very real and sympathetic when they could have remained heartless and cruel via the hero and heroine’s perceptions.
All in all, When We First Met is a powerful and moving love story, and the story of two people and their families struggling to deal with loss and to grow stronger as a result. It’s a beautiful story, and one that can be appreciated at all ages.