Book review: ‘Other Words For Love’ by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

Ariadne “Ari” Mitchell is used to playing second fiddle to her gorgeous, outgoing best friend, Summer, and her older sister Evelyn, whose teen pregnancy solidified their parents’ fears for their teenage daughters. Though she’s now married with a gorgeous husband and son, her distaste for the world still clouds everything. Especially their family.

It’s 1985 in New York City, and Ari is tired of lingering in the background. When an unexpected inheritance allows the Mitchells to send Ari to a private school in the city, she’s excited and nervous about the change — especially as she’ll now be closer to Summer. It’s at her new school that she meets Leigh, an artistic student with a great asset: her older cousins, young men with dreams and ambition still cradled beneath their father’s thumb. Cousins who become impossible for Ari to ignore.

As she forms new bonds and begins to examine what binds her to her family (and she to them), Ari falls in love and grapples with the knowledge that so many things — real, beautiful — will end. But then again, maybe that just places her at the beginning.

Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s Other Words For Love is one of those rare novels that had my heart threatening to fall right out of my chest; the emotions, characters and situations felt so real and stomachache-inducingly familiar. Books about first love usually resonate with me far more than any other subject — it’s something close to my own heart, I guess. And if I had big expectations about this one after reading so many glowing reviews, they were all met. And then some.

Ari is the novel’s backbone — our narrator; our heroine. Told in her matter-of-fact and almost deadpan style, we get to know the Mitchell and Cagney families intimately in a very short time. At 17, Ari finds herself drawn to Patrick, her older sister’s firefighter husband — and who wouldn’t? Patrick is everything Ari longs for: handsome; dependable; family-oriented; strong. And, more than anything, he takes an interest in her . . . too much, Evelyn gripes. Too much of an interest in her.

I spent most of the novel wanting to pop Evelyn in the face, but it was hard to feel angry with her for too long. Clearly grappling with postpartum depression, Ari’s sister is a woman struggling to find a place within her own family . . . and the world. The fact that Ari was continuously swallowed up in Evelyn’s drama was tough to take, but I could see why everyone was concerned. And I appreciated Ari’s compassion — even when Evelyn was behaving like a monster.

Oh, this book . . . it’s hard to even pinpoint why I adored it so much. The love story that transpires had me breathless, remembering, and it’s difficult to not feel tossed right back into the maelstrom of your own first love while dissolving into Other Words For Love. Rosenthal does an incredible job making us love and care for these people — and Ari felt like a friend I could head to Brooklyn and visit. The glittering world of Leigh, Blake and Delsin — Ari’s new friends in the city — was sparkling, yes, but it wasn’t their wealth that made them so appealing to Ari. It was a sense of belonging and comrarderie — and of love — that made their presence like a drug to her.

In the story, Summer accuses Ari of not really being in love — of simply thinking she is — because she’s in a state of limerence, when feelings of romantic love are so intense that your affection becomes obsession. But who doesn’t look back on their first great love and remember those sleepless nights spent replaying every word and look exchanged, and the very first time you kissed? Of the way you felt when you realized your feelings were returned — when you wanted to wake up and shout “I’m in love!” while dancing in traffic on the roof of your car?

If you have a desire to replay that time in your life — or simply read a sweet, understated but beautiful novel — don’t miss out on Other Words For Love. Though labeled as young adult literature, our protagonist is anything but a “typical” teen — and this is anything but a one-note love story.


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 038573901X ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

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11 thoughts on “Book review: ‘Other Words For Love’ by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

  1. Whoa! 5 out of 5! Well, absolutely it should receive such a rating if the author truly does capture the magic and insanity of first love. Not an easy task, this.

  2. What a great, in-depth review! This book sounds awesome, especially with your 5/5 rating. I’ll definitely be looking into this one now. I love all things NYC, but add in a tale of first love, and it makes it all the more interesting.

  3. I loved this one too. NYC in the 80s, the characters, and the story all made this a very enjoyable book for me. This book has been overshadowed by other books this year, but the people that have read it seem to like it a lot. Glad you enjoyed it too!

  4. Wow, you made that sound so good! (I love reading your reviews!) This is going straight on the to-read list. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. I love me a good first love story, but I’m usually put out by the usual saccharine-ness. I’m glad to see you describe the tone as “matter-of-fact and almost deadpan style”. Sound like my type of thing, thanks for flagging!

  6. 1985…that’s when I first fell in love. Your glowing review has me really curious now! Will definitely add this to my TBR list of must-reads. It will probably leaving me with nostalgic memories.

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