Alice and her family go to Dorset for the summer before she goes off to university. She fully expects to be bored silly since her best friend can't go with her as planned. But when she and her parents end up at a local pub, she meets Joe. He's good looking and brooding and the two of them fall in love. But his family situation is untenable, his parents are abusive, and his brother is terrifying and dangerous, and eventually Joe and Alice are torn apart. She mourns the loss of him until she finally moves on with her life, meeting and marrying Lukas. But Joe isn't gone; he's gotten famous. What will his reappearance mean in Alice's life?
This is a tale of first love but it's not a light one by any means. The tone of the novel changes significantly from dark and terrible to hopeful. But the characters aren't driving that change so it feels artificial, an unrealistic fantasy. Joe was always Alice's first love so it's not surprising that she's conflicted when he comes back into the story. The bulk of the story is not about Alice and Joe, except as absence since Joe is present at the very beginning and then only comes back into the story rather late. Alice's relationship with Lukas is the major portion of the novel and that's not a good thing since she comes across as weak, and he's possessive and controlling even before he has to compete with the intensity of remembered first love.
It was hard to sympathize with or appreciate any of the characters in the novel even though Joe is a Cinderella for whom the reader is supposed to feel sympathy. I've never rooted against first love but I probably would have here had Lukas not been unredeemable as a character. Alice and Joe move from lust to love almost immediately (they are teenagers after all) but there seems to be little growth in them for all the years and experiences they spend apart. Can it still be called love if you don't even know the person anymore? Or is it just a lust refresher? The ending of the novel is intentionally ambiguous (although it's fairly obvious what it has to be) in order to allow for a sequel and it felt rushed to boot, neither of which is ideal in a novel. Readers who don't mind infidelity and melodrama in their chick lit might like this one although it didn't really work for me.