I can see how Second First Impressions, Sally Thorne’s third book, isn’t going to be a five-star book for many readers – heck it wasn’t for me until quite near the end. But this book hit me in the feelings and had just the right kind of relatively low stakes, emotions are the plot set up for me. I was delighted; I understand if you were not.
In this outing Thorne is playing with opposites, both in her protagonists and in the thematic work she keeps coming back to. Our leads are Ruthie and Teddy. Ruthie works at a retirement village and at 25 has cocooned herself there for the past six years, eschewing the outside world to a large degree. Her boss takes off for an extended cruise leaving Ruthie in charge with a temp, the wonderful Melanie who Ruthie isn’t sure she’s going to manage to work with. As Ruthie is getting her feet under her in this new scenario the new owner of the retirement village descends with possibly the last person she wants to see, the person she embarrassed herself in front of on her last trip off-site. Teddy is in need of a job and a place to stay so he can save money to buy into his share of a tattoo parlor and his father is planning to dump him on Ruthie. But Ruthie thinks quickly and remembers that two of her most eccentric residents, the Parlonis, are in need of a new assistant to torture and Ruthie thinks Teddy is perfect for the job and as no “new boy” hired by the Parlonis lasts she’ll be rid of Teddy before long.
Of course, it doesn’t go that way at all.
Second First Impressions is in many ways a story about what can find its way into our lives if only we wait to pass judgement. Melanie the temp worms her way into Ruthie’s life as a friend she is very much in need of and elects herself Ruthie’s dating guru to get her back out into the world. Teddy’s exterior (tattoos everywhere) and family (wealthy, powerful) offer one version of who he is, but Ruthie slowly uncovers the real Teddy over the course of a few weeks as they live and work side by side. Ruthie lets the pair in slowly, revealing her own history – and beginning to reckon with it – and how she’s been bearing the consequences of choices made by others.
Throughout Thorne is playing opposing actions, focusing on adorers and adorees (Melanie’s terms) and the GIVE and TAKE tattoos on Teddy’s hands, reflecting on how it captures the interactions any relationship is built on. There’s also a certain sweetness that runs through this book, even though the characters are dealing with heavy personal histories. The characters all genuinely like each other and treat each other with such empathy. Teddy’s employers, the Parlonis, and the other residents are just such characters in the best possible way and the fun that Thorne had in writing them is evident on the page. I felt for Ruthie and Teddy and swooned at them as they swooned for each other. My favorite people in my life make me feel settled and calm, and Ruthie and Teddy provide that for each other, and it really sells these two supposed opposites falling for each other so thoroughly.
Bingo Square: Fauna (the turtles, crucial to the plot that I managed to completely ignore in my review. Endangered turtles!)