Review of A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat

A First Time for Everything

by Dan Santat

First Second, 2023. 320 pages.
Review written March 12, 2023, from a library book
Starred Review

Here it is! Yet another book that convinces me that the absolutely perfect material for the graphic novel format is the middle school memoir. A First Time for Everything joins books like Smile, Real Friends, El Deafo, and many others that all brilliantly express the emotions and awkwardness of middle school — showing kids that they are not alone.

Caldecott-winning artist Dan Santat got to go to Europe the summer after his eighth grade year. It was an experience that changed his life.

First, he expertly shows some of his humiliations in middle school, so we understand his lack of self-confidence. Some girls who always tease him are along on the trip, but so are some kids from other parts of the United States, including a girl who seems to think he’s cool.

And they see Europe! They start in Paris and travel to places like Switzerland, Salzburg, Vienna, and London. The adults on the trip give them a lot of freedom (the Author’s Note in the back comments on that), and we really get the feeling of a kid experiencing Europe, meeting new people, and learning about himself.

I lived in Germany for ten years and visited many of the places portrayed in this book, so I loved that aspect of reading it as well. It made me want to go back. So much. (But then, most things do.) And when I do, I’m going to drink a Fanta and think of Dan Santat. (Well, and my kids. They love Fanta, too.)

This book is completely wonderful. He managed to put on the page the awkwardness of middle school plus the wonder of Europe plus the challenge of trying new things — and the way all that makes you grow. You could see the kid Dan gaining confidence and liking himself more as the story went on.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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