A First Time for Everything

First Second. Feb. 2023. 320p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781626724150.
Gr 5-9–In 1989, 13-year-old Santat headed off to Europe for three weeks at the insistence of his parents. They couldn’t travel much anymore on account of his mother’s lupus and wanted him to have that experience. Santat was less than thrilled, having just wrapped up junior high with more negative experiences than positive ones. Like the title indicates, this memoir explores young Santat’s first coming-of-age experiences. We see his first time away from home without parents, first discotheque, and first taste of beer in a German beer hall, among many others. One particular highlight is his first chance at young love with a golden-haired girl named Amy. This was also a trip for Santat to take his art seriously and share it with others without fear of being bullied. Santat’s artwork in the story is as great as you’d expect, with the European cityscapes often bathed in golden hour light. All the loveliness is juxtaposed with the strong and often hilarious reactions of teenagers. Flashbacks done in a moody blue show the reality of Santat’s former life. An author’s note indicates how the story diverges from real life details and acknowledges that travel as a teenager in 1989 was much different than it would be today. Santat’s emotional journey is easy to track and culminates in a surprising experience at Wimbledon. While Santat’s story is his own, readers will have a worthwhile time relating to him.
VERDICT A thoughtful memoir with lots of humor and heart. Hand this to fans of Real Friends and the “Berrybrook Middle School” series. Recommended for all.

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