Memories and truth often lay buried in our distant past, waiting to be aroused and awakened. For award-winning children’s author and illustrator Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend; Drawn Together) that time has come, and he conjures forth his magical creativity to reimagine a 13-year-old version of himself in the graphic memoir A First Time for Everything. What unfolds is an endearing character-building story that chronicles the adventures of a middle schooler on an overseas trip one summer before entering the throes of high school.
The story starts off in Camarillo, a small town located on the outskirts of Los Angeles where Santat grew up. He was a shy kid, preferring to be invisible, and when asked to recite an impromptu poem during an assembly in the school gym one day, gets jeered at by his classmates. During the summer of 1989, through the encouragement of his parents, he embarks on a three-week class trip to study abroad in Europe. Many “firsts” abound for him: Trying out a Fanta orange soda drink, dancing at a night club, having a beer, asking a girl out, and experiencing his first (albeit botched) kiss. A chance encounter later leads him to fall into love with a blonde named Amy Glucksbringer from Illinois. Together, they sneak in to watch a Wimbledon tennis tournament. At one point he even gets lost in the streets of Salzburg during the middle of the night and is chased by a gang of punks.
Santat narrates his travels and escapades with honesty, wonder, and charming humor, transporting his younger self across France, Germany, and England. Panels packed with lively action peppered with humorous moments—some wordless and filled with sound effects—drive the narrative scenes between characters. Flashbacks shaded in light somber blues capture moments in time that impact his present circumstances. Sightseeing excursions unfold through quarter to full-page panels featuring sketches of world landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, showcasing his burgeoning talent as an artist. The back matter features a collage of photographs and mementos marking key points in his travels along with insightful tidbits on the process of constructing a memoir from memory.
A First Time for Everything packs much love and heart into the zany and often awkward exploits of an adolescent encountering milestones of self-discovery. A coming-of-age story replete with themes on risk-taking, identity seeking, and reconciliation, this graphic memoir will make an enchantingly delightful addition to middle grade collections, demonstrating that it’s never too late to live life to the fullest.
A First Time for Everything
By Dan Santat
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Thai-American
Character Representation: Thai-American