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 ISBN: 9781250851048
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Thai-American Character Representation: Thai-American
Finding your identity is easier said than done. You can try a variety of clothes, hobbies, sports, etc. and still be unclear on who you are and where you fit in. In the end you may find your place but you may also realize that it doesn’t matter where you stand, as long as you stay you. Newbery Honoree Christina Soontornvat relates her troubles with identity in her new book The Tryout. Partnering with illustrator Joanna Cacao, Soontornvat narrates her journey to become a middle school cheerleader and finding where she fits within her group of peers.
Christina and Megan have been best friends since grammar school. The duo had spent countless hours swapping secrets, playing with dolls, and chatting on the phone. But as they enter the seventh grade, Christina fears that their friendship will never be the same. Not only that, Christina has been feeling out of place. She needs to find something that will guarantee her a place within her middle school population, so why not the cheerleading squad? They are popular, adored, and amazing at performing different tricks and keeping the audience pumped. So when tryouts begin for new students, Christina and Megan jump at the chance. But will joining the squad change their middle school status and still keep their friendship intact?
The creative partnership of Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao is a success in this coming of age story. Soontornvat does not hold anything back in her narration. There are scenes of stereotyping and racist comments witnessed by Christina and Megan. Moments of distress and anxiety are shown, with characters’ letting their emotions come out through actions or words. But after these scenes of distress, instead of letting hateful words keep her down, Christina is able to fight back in her own way. Readers will appreciate her devotion to her faith and identity, as well. Joanna Cacao includes scenes of pray within Christina’s Thai temple and her Presbyterian church, with Soontornvat’s explanation on Thai culture and comparisons between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha. Cacao’s illustrations also include a diverse community being able to thrive within a mostly Caucasian town. Cheerleading stunts and tricks are shown from panel to panel, allowing the action to flow without interruptions.
Public and school libraries (especially those who have students in grades 4-8) need to have The Tryout on their shelves. It’s a great choice for any young reader who enjoys being on the pep squad or is on the path of trying to find their place in middle school. Place it right next to other coming of age comics, such as Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Kayla Miller’s Click and Kathryn Ormsbee’s Growing Pangs.
The Tryout By Christina Soontornvat Art by Joanna Cacao Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338741261
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Thai-American, , Character Representation: Thai-American, Buddhist ,