Books & Media
summer 353x500 This One SummerThis One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First, Second, May 2014
Reviewed from final copy

In my head, as I’ve written this post, it’s mostly been a series of exclamation points and the word “squeeeeeeee” interspersed with pictures from the book’s pages. I mean, that’s legit Printz discussion, no? With 6 starred reviews, gorgeous art, a meditative story line, it really seems like my work here is done and I’m only 57 words along in this review. But perhaps you need convincing? Or are just in the mood for a good gush? In the name of due diligence, let’s explore what’s making me go squee. We’ve got beautiful art, strong characterization and an emotional, summer-wandering plot with complicated themes adding texture and weight…I’m pretty much squeeing over the whole package of this spare-but-profound graphic novel.

The art and dialogue effectively flesh out the characters; no one seems like a type. But just as effective are the ways that the characters play together, or play off of each other to illustrate the comforts and difficulties of relationships — the ways that opposite sorts of people can find each other and love each other…and also hurt each other. Rose’s thoughtful, hesitant tiptoes toward teenage-dom are an effective contrast to Windy’s extreme exuberance. When they are getting along, their differences are refreshing and sweet. And when Rose consciously pushes Windy away in an effort to seem more grown up, Windy’s shut down is so immediate, it illustrates the exponential differences that a year or two age gap can force between friends. Alice’s relentless depression coupled with Evan’s forced cheerfulness and inflexible wish to just make everything easy and nice show an opposites-attract relationship that has gone wrong along the way. The more minor characters — Dunc, Jenny, Aunt Jody — don’t always get a lot of dialog but still manage to be compelling and/or quietly sympathetic.

The blue-white art is what has me most excited — so much characterization going on I almost remember this as a wordless story: Dunc’s friend, Matt, with his shitty t-shirts and coming out of the bathroom still buttoning up his shorts… Uncle Daniel’s flashy frisbee throwing and explosive word balloons… The chaos of the Historic Heritage Huron Village gift shop… Windy’s — well, I was going to say krunking there, but I really just mean Windy’s everything; her physicality is so beautifully expressed and so excellently contrasted with the way she just stops when Rose shuts her down… The way each girl reacts to the horror scenes (Rose’s eyes glued to the screen, Windy cowering with her hands over her eyes)… Alice’s tired and drawn face… These characters speak with far more than their words — so that even Dunc, immature, dickish Dunc, has moments where his fright and his overwhelmed-ness show up.

I think I liked this book best when it was Rose and Windy playing together, coming at the question “what does growing up really even mean?” from a million different directions. Is it feeling superior to other people? Or watching horror movies? Drinking and having sex? Playing M.A.S.H. to populate the future with pseudo-sophisticated plans? (We’ll live in an apartment — a nice one — and we’ll have a baby — just one — and also I’ll work.) Watching Rose watch the other women in the story, seeing her try to make sense of the world based on their experiences drives home just how young she is, and how perceptive. There are so many ways of seeing women, so many ways to think about what it means to be a woman, and they’re all pretty horrifying to try to understand as an adolescent. The Dunc-Jenny relationship may be slightly less layered than the Wallace family dynamics, but Rose’s fascination with the Awago teens felt just as emotionally accurate to me. Having kids-teens-moms-grandma around gave the Tamikos many chances to quietly pull maiden/mother/crone allusions without ever being too on-the-nose.

Wait. I also liked this book best when it was about Rose feeling so conflicted about growing up and being a woman and having to deal with ladyparts and all the boobs, boys, and blood that can involve. Rose’s insistence on seeing Jenny as a slut and her treatment of her mother for the majority of the novel are a totally effective portrait of both internalized misogyny and ambivalence about growing up. It could, I guess, make her an unlikeable protagonist, although she was never unlikeable to me. I mean, basically everything Rose ever sees ever just reinforces that girls grow up to shriek, have sex and then get stabbed. (Now would be the time at the Printz table where I wax rhapsodic about the inclusion of slasher movies — because that is totally the age where they started appearing at slumber parties, BUT ALSO because where else can you find that exact mix of slut shaming, summer camp, and teens taking on grown up roles? SO PERFECT.)

The lazy summer days that bleed together make up the slight plot of this graphic novel. The panels lay out simple, discrete moments that slide from one into the next; time feels fluid — like time during the summer. The things that happen feel episodic, in the way a vacation is episodic, and like a vacation, the story leaves you, the reader, feeling changed afterwards in subtle, unsayable ways.

OK, clearly I am ALL IN on this one. If I were at that Printz table, I’d come in to this conversation ready to go to the mat for this book. What do you think? Are you squeeing along with me?

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