YA books are all about firsts. First love, first independence, first important decisions made without the help of parental units. More than age of the character, or setting, or anything else, I think that’s the thing that defines a YA book.
And I think that’s why YA books have got such broad appeal. We never stop having “firsts.” I just went on my first cruise. (I know this is not much of a rite of passage for people, but it meant confronting at least 8 of my 15 phobias, so it was kind of a big deal for me.) I visited a foreign country by myself. Okay, it was for 5 hours, and it was Jamaica, and I didn’t leave the confines of Montego Bay. But still!
My firsts tend to be typical of my life. A little screwball. But that just makes them more memorable.
My first kiss was from a guy in a Boba Fett costume, sans helmet. (It was a halloween party.)
My first job was playing Chuck E. Cheese at the pizza place of the same name. (There seems to be a costume theme going on here.)
My first plane ride, I barfed.
My first helicopter ride, I barfed.
(My first boat ride, I did just fine. There was no barfing on this cruise.)
My first reading of Little Women was in the third grade. I earned a years worth of reading points in one book, and swore I was going to change my name to Josephine when I turned 18.
My first (substantial) short story was written in the third grade, about a girl who woke up in the middle of the night to find a UFO landing on her front lawn. She ran downstairs in her pjs and fought the alien back into his spaceship with the umbrella that she’d grabbed from the umbrella stand by the front door. Interestingly, the story was in first person. I guess I’ve always known my voice, even back then. (All my stories involved Martians, as my father had given me the John Carter of Mars books as soon as I finished all the Nancy Drew books.)
As a result, I’ve always had a thing for guys in armor, a hatred of flying (and of giant costume characters), and a love of sci-fi and mystery stories and strong, quirky heroines like Jo March.
Most firsts are worth looking back and laughing at, and even when they are tragic, they form the landscape of our journey. How we chose to allow them to affect us is what makes us what we are.