Review of A First Time for Everything

A First Time for Everything A First Time for Everything
by Dan Santat; illus. by the author
Middle School    First Second    320 pp.
2/23    9781626724150    $22.99
Paper ed.  978-1250851048    $14.99

Santat, Caldecott winner for The Adventures of Beekle, shares his own adventures in this graphic memoir that focuses on a trip to Europe the summer before high school. He dispenses with his fraught middle-school years in two emotionally charged opening scenes: a humiliating speech and a disastrous party. The heart of the story is the life-changing three-week school trip, which his parents see as an opportunity: “We never got to do this when we were kids. You should feel lucky!” But for thirteen-year-old Dan, being invisible is his best coping strategy, and the trip forces him reluctantly out of his comfort zone. The visual narrative sticks to Dan’s perspective, and his growth is treated with empathy and humor. This is Santat at his best: his signature palette emphasizing muted greens, browns, and nighttime shades; a variety of vertical and horizontal panels (many with no words or only sound effects and speech bubbles); and the spare text supporting the lively visuals. That summer may have been his first chance to see the cultural treasures of Europe, but for Dan it was other firsts that made indelible impressions—first Fanta (and first beer); first girlfriend; and, thus, first broken heart. Readers see Europe’s landmarks, but they’re background to the book’s human dramas. Back matter includes an author’s note and a “Recreating Old Memories” section.

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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