by Dan Santat
First Second, 2023
Grades 5 and up
Caldecott Medal winner, Dan Santat, has made a name for himself as a talented picture book illustrator and author. A First Time for Everything is Santat's first graphic novel memoir, and it's brilliant. Based on Santat's experiences traveling to Europe the summer before his freshman year of high school, the memoir captures the, awkwardness, excitement, embarrassment, and joy of coming of age in the late 1980s.
Readers will identify with Dan, who tries to do the right thing and be true to himself while navigating the complexities of the teen years, friendship, independence and young love. The memoir is a tribute to Gen X with Kodak cameras, mix tapes, network television, and hand written letters.
The graphic novel format is perfect for Santat's story pairing his talent for illustration with engaging storytelling. Dan takes risks and learns about the who he is and who he wants to be as he travels through France, Switzerland, Germany and England. Flashbacks, presented in black & white, provide insight into Dan's experiences before the trip. While there are some scenes with alcohol and smoking, the events are a glimpse into the teen years of Gen Xers while also contrasting American and European cultures in the 80s.
A strength of the book is how the story represents the budding romance between Dan and Amy over the course of the trip. Dan's crush on Amy is innocent and realistic as his insecurities cause him to come across as awkward and unsure. Ultimately, Dan uses his drawing talent and his love for tennis and Wimbeldon to win over Amy. A First Time for Everything is highly recommended for middle school and high school readers. It's the perfect mix of humor, nostalgia, teen angst, and self-actualization.