Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.
Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.
On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.
As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.
Praise for First Comes Love
“An engaging story of sisterly love . . . Illuminating and engrossing.”—People
“[Emily] Giffin delivers another emotionally honest work. . . . First Comes Love is a heart-stirring novel about the many layers of sibling rivalry.”—Associated Press
“First Comes Love brings [Giffin] back with a vengeance. Tales of sisters have been at the core of other great novels, but Giffin turns that relationship upside down and makes her view a fascinating one.”—Huffington Post
“Moving and complex, [First Comes Love] proves [that Emily Giffin is] still at the top of her game.”—Booklist
“Giffin juggles Josie’s quest for motherhood and Meredith’s internal conflicts deftly. . . . Giffin paints a realistic portrait of the troubled and complex relationship between a pair of sisters.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This is Giffin at her finest—a fantastic, memorable story.”—Publishers Weekly
“First Comes Love is an un-put-down-able, smart, and thoughtful novel that will make you think about the nature of family and how our past informs our present.”—PopSugar
“Giffin’s talent is pretty much unparalleled when it comes to the modern woman’s story about life, love and family.”—Redbook
“[A] well-written family drama.”—Real Simple
“Fans will be entertained by the author’s humor and satisfied by her storytelling”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It is the first day of school, a symbolic and hopeful fresh start, at least that’s what I tell myself as I stand before my captive, well-scrubbed audience of ten boys and eleven girls in my J.Crew finest—gold ballet flats, gray pants, and a pink, sequined sweater set. Sitting cross-legged on the braided rug, some children beam back at me, while others wear blank expressions, waiting without judging. It is the beauty of first graders. They are guileless, not a jaded one among them.
Odds are good that they’d heard that they’d scored in the great, mysterious teacher lottery before they even walked through my classroom door, adorned with a construction-paper maple tree, cutouts of twenty-one personalized bluebirds, and a banner swinging from the boughs that exclaims: WELCOME TO MISS JOSIE’S NEST!
After fourteen years teaching at the same elementary school, I have a reputation as fun, energetic, and creative. I am not considered strict, but not a pushover, either. Incidentally, I am also known as the “pretty teacher,” which some parents (fathers and mothers alike) seem to value as much as anything else, including straight-up intelligence, a sentiment that has always confounded and vaguely annoyed me. I mean, I know I’m not teaching quantum calculus, but I am instilling critical survival skills in children, teaching them how to add and subtract, tell time, count money, and most important, really read, unlocking the mystery of consonant combinations and abstract sounds, blended and pronounced as words, strung together in sentences, filling the pages of books, whether with or without pictures. It might seem like Groundhog Day to some, including a few of my colleagues who really need to change professions, but I am passionate about what I do, thrilled to watch things click for a new crop of children every year.
Yet amid the anticipation is always a melancholy feeling that the summer is over, coupled with a familiar prickling of self-doubt and anxiety that has marked all my first days of school, both as a teacher and as a student before that. I consider the many potential obstacles ahead, wondering how many of my kids will have ADHD or dyslexia or other garden-variety learning issues. Who will become frustrated or disheartened when they fall behind their peers? Which children will have impossible-to-please parents who will bombard me with emails and calls, make outlandish suggestions for our curriculum, or point out grammatical errors in my newsletters under the guise of constructive criticism? (No matter how many times I proofread my correspondence, it is inevitable that at some point during the year I will misspell a word or misplace an apostrophe, mistakes that somehow seem more egregious from a teacher than, say, a lawyer or doctor.)
Then there is the disturbing matter of Edie Carlisle, the firstborn of my most significant ex, Will Carlisle. Will and I broke up years ago—eight to be exact—but I’m not yet over him, at least not completely. And I simply can’t believe that his little girl has been assigned to my class, a fact I try in vain to forget as I launch into my script, a variation of what I say every year.
Hello, boys and girls! My name is Miss Josie! I grew up right here in Atlanta and graduated from the University of Georgia. Go Dawgs! I love animals and have a rescue dog named Revis. I have one sister and a beautiful four-year-old niece named Harper. My favorite color is pink, like my sweater. My hobbies include swimming, reading, baking cookies, dancing, and playing board games. I’m good at keeping secrets and being a trustworthy friend. I hope you will all be good friends to one another this year. I’m so excited to get to know each and every one of you and I feel very lucky to be your teacher!
It sounded pretty good, the exuberant delivery elevating it to a solid A, even though I could hear the annotated version in my head, which went something like this:
Every time I say “Miss Josie” I think it sounds like a stripper—a job I fleetingly considered taking one summer in college because strippers make a hell of a lot more money than waitresses. And teachers, for that matter. I have a dog, and a sister named Meredith. She drives me nuts, and I would mostly avoid her altogether if it weren’t for my niece, Harper. I used to have an older brother, but he died in a car accident a long time ago, something I don’t like to talk about, especially to my students. I think the subject of one’s favorite color is supremely boring because it really doesn’t tell you much of anything (color for what—a car or a purse or your bedroom walls?), but for some inexplicable reason, you all seem hyperfocused on it, so I’m going to say pink because roughly half of you will be pleased with my choice and at least a third of you will marvel over the coincidence of sharing the same favorite hue. Swimming isn’t really a hobby, just a thing I sometimes do at the Y in an attempt to keep off the weight that I’m prone to gaining around my midsection (from all the cookies I bake, then eat), something you seem not to notice or at least not to judge. I do enjoy board games, but I’d rather play drinking games with my friends—or go dancing with them (did I mention I could have been a stripper fifteen pounds ago?). I can keep secrets, especially my own, which is a good thing, because if your parents knew some of my skeletons, they might send around a petition to have me fired. Friendship means everything to me because I’m thirty-seven and can’t find a decent man to marry, which is depressing both because I don’t want to be alone and because I adore children more than anything else in the world. I know I’m running out of time, at least to birth my own. Please be nice to one another this year because the one thing I will not tolerate on my watch is mean girl (or boy) escapades—though fortunately those dynamics don’t really kick in until next year, yet another reason to teach the first grade. I’m so excited to get to know each and every one of you, and that includes you, Edie Carlisle. Did your father tell you that he dumped me right before he married your mother and had you? I will do my best not to hold this against you, but please show a little mercy and keep your happy-home anecdotes to a minimum.
I smile down at their eager, shining faces and say, “So? Do you have any questions for me?”
Four hands shoot into the air, and as I consider who is the least likely to ask the one query I have come to loathe, a fidgety boy with messy hair and ruddy cheeks blurts it out: Do you have a husband?
Three seconds flat. A new record. Congrats, Wesley, I think, glancing at his laminated name tag which I made over the weekend, and making a mental note to work into the curriculum that a bare left ring finger means please do not ask questions on the topic of marriage. Perhaps I could squeeze it in between our weather unit and the introduction to the metric system.
I force a bigger, brighter smile, doing my best to ignore the knot in my chest. “No, Wesley. I’m not married. Maybe one day! And let’s try to remember to raise our hands before we call out. Like this,” I say, raising my hand for a visual demonstration. “Okay?”
Wesley’s head bobs up and down while I reassure myself that surely Edie knows nothing about my relationship with her father. After all, any knowledge of his romantic past would indicate inappropriate mothering— and I’m sure that Andrea (pronounced on-DRAY-ah) Carlisle has immaculate judgment to go along with her impeccable taste, which I’ve gleaned from stalking her Pinterest page. Gluten-free snacks! Homemade Halloween costumes! Postpregnancy workouts you can do with your child! Paint colors for a serene master suite! Thank God the woman’s Instagram and Facebook profiles are set to private—a small blessing from the social media gods.
Reading Group Guide
1. Did you identify more with Josie or Meredith? Why? Did that change over the course of the novel?
2. Josie almost writes off her relationship with Pete because she doesn’t feel enough of a spark, but he argues that chemistry can develop over time. Do you agree with him? Do you think the de-velopment of the relationship between these two characters felt realistic?
3. Nolan tells Meredith that he initially decided to hide the truth about the night Daniel died because it wouldn’t have helped anyone. Would you have done the same in his position? When is keeping such a big secret from a loved one justifiable?
4. Daniel’s death is a source of great guilt for many of the characters in this novel. Compare and contrast the different ways that guilt manifests itself in their choices. How do you think Meredith’s and Josie’s lives might be different if Daniel were still alive?
5. Discuss the theme of motherhood in the novel. What does being a mother mean to Meredith, to Josie, and to Elaine? What does it mean to you?
6. Many of the characters in the novel struggle with the idea that the life they’re living doesn’t necessarily look like the one they might have imagined or hoped for themselves. Have you ever felt this way? Using examples either from the book or from your own experience, discuss how that feeling can be both a negative and a positive force.
7. What do you think allows Josie to finally get over her feelings for Will, after holding on to them for so many years?
8. Imagine for a moment that your best friend or sister tells you she is having a baby on her own, as Josie decides to. How would you react? What would you say to her? What would you want to hear, if you were the one making that decision?
9. Why do you think Meredith decides not to leave Nolan right away? Would you have made the same choice in her position?
10. At the very end of the book, Josie thinks to herself that love and forgiveness “are often one and the same.” Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment? What are some examples of forgiveness being given over the course of the novel?
11. Meredith struggles with the idea of taking time for herself, worrying that both her family and her career won’t survive without her. Do you think this is a common fear for women today? What do you think of Amy’s argument that “If you end up happier . . . this could really be a gift to Harper in the long run” (page 232)?
12. This novel doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”—-both Meredith and Josie make their decisions, but the reader doesn’t know what the ultimate outcome for each will be. Why do you think the author chose to end the novel where she does? What do you imagine happens next for these characters?