The First Time, edited by Jessica Verday and Rhonda Stapleton - Oh man, I gotta write this all fast so I won’t lose it.
That’s what this book is like. Each story is a temporal joy, a penultimate example of escapism. That’s what makes short stories great, really, and adding the fast-paced, attention sucking power of YA flick-lit to the mix only helps. There were more times than I can count over the last week where I found myself having to allot time to this anthology (and routinely running over said allotted time), or else I’d just plow through the whole thing at once. But I knew I needed to digest each story I read so I could write rationally about it later.
The First Time is a collection of YA short stories featuring “firsts”–first loves, first jobs, first zombie slaying–that will ring true with audiences from fifteen to fifty. There’s a delightful smattering of every YA sub-genre, from comedy to dystopian to urban fantasy. I didn’t leave a single story in this anthology feeling like it couldn’t compare to the others; there were so many excellent contributions (many from new or relatively unknown authors) that I was constantly logging onto Amazon to add new authors to my wish list. If you even have a passing interest in the genre, you will love this anthology.
And it’s only $2.99 (eBook only)!
Here were the real stand-out stories (in the order that they appear):
Cart Princess, by Kristina Springer – This is the kind of story where the character makes it a masterpiece. I couldn’t help but remember working a menial service job as a teenager, spying on that guy who works in produce (yeah, I had one, too) and wondering if he thinks about you as much as you think about him. But Ronnie brings it all a hilarious, absent-minded flavor my produce crush never had.
Against the World, by Jennifer Brown – The best different kind of love story. A look through the eyes of a teen mom, belittled and degraded, never knowing if she’s going to make it–or if her daughter will turn out right. Brown paints every one of our teen mom’s thoughts with duplicitous uncertainty and the utmost authenticity.
Selling Mr. Peanut, by Laura Zielin – I tend to overlook the simple in favor of the grand and epic–but one thing this anthology specialized in was artfully crafting the simple. There was something about the “first job” stories that really stood out, I suppose because anyone can identify with them.
Turn Here, by Jackson Pierce – The variety in this anthology didn’t stop at sub-genre, but the stories varied dramatically by length as well. Turn Here somehow weaves Jimmy Carter’s head, peanut brittle, and a Georgia beauty pageant into a clever scavenger hunt, and I couldn’t help but want to see more of Pierce’s work.
Most Artistic: Kissing the Dog-faced Boy, by Saundra Mitchell – I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a reader say they didn’t find temporal shifts jarring–because they are, that’s all there is to it–but Saundra Mitchell uses time transitions in a strangely clever and satisfying manner. Plus, it’s about a geek show. How could you not love it?
Most Rib-Poppingly Hilarious: Romeo and What’s-Her-Name, by Shani Petroff – Read it. Just… just read it. That’s all I can say.
Most Depressing: Freedom, by Cyn Balog – I know “Most Depressing” sounds like the worst category ever, but Freedom is all about that relationship you can’t get rid of. That person in your life who drives you crazy, who makes you miserable and delighted at the same time, but who you just can’t tear yourself away from. The variety of storytelling in this anthology is vast, but the shifts are never sudden, and I deeply admire editors Verday and Stapleton for getting that right.
Best Fantasy Story: Looking Through One Eye, by Jon Skovron – This story features not one, but two male protagonists, each being interviewed by the FBI. But what are they looking for? How are they connected? Jon’s writing is clever and secretive. It’s not often you get two tales with a single, righteous twist.
Best Reality Story: Evan and Penny, by Jenny Moss – Verday and Stapleton crafted The First Time collection in the five-act style of a single, united work. Evan and Penny is, if anything, the climax of the book–the cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the brownie and cookie and eventually, the cupcake. I could just kiss Jenny Moss.
There were a couple stories that left me hanging–wishing I knew more, wishing I could see the outcome. Sweet Truth (Stacey Jay) and Two of a Kind (Janet Gurtler) felt like they needed to be at least twice as long, if not a full-length novel.
I have to thank those two editors for putting this collection together, even if as authors they didn’t make any grand contributions. I also did not include my friend J.A. Yang‘s Perfect Firsts story in this review because I am, naturally, biased. It was obviously the best one of the lot. Go check it out.
This book gets: ♥♥♥♥♥ out of 5