This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
17th Jun 2014
Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki have previously collaborated on Skim, a graphic novel set in 1993 about a Japanese-Canadian outsider at a Catholic girls’ school. It received multiple Eisner nominations and a Doug Wright award.
The cousins’ second offering, This One Summer is published by First Second, a New York-based publisher with several exciting artists and writers on their books.
The story begins with protagonist Rose telling us about Awago, the sleepy Ontario beach town she and her family have visited every summer since she was little. Windy and her mom also go there, and the two girls have become close summertime friends.
Rose’s memories of summers past include being carried into the house by her dad, ghost stories told by her mom, and everything bathed in a glow of childlike innocence.
Rose and Windy are poised on the edge of adolescence and become fascinated by a group of local teenagers who are headed towards possible tragedy. Add to that the fact that Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting, and happy memories of Awago seem ever more distant.This summer is different. Rose and Windy are poised on the edge of adolescence and become fascinated by a group of local teenagers who are headed towards possible tragedy. Add to that the fact that Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting, and happy memories of Awago seem ever more distant.
Luckily Rose and Windy have their friendship, and can explore the onset of adulthood together. They rent horror films and try really hard not to be terrified, they discuss boys and sex and conjecture about their future boob potential.
Rose is older but in some ways less worldly; she develops an infatuation with a local store clerk who treats his girlfriend badly, while Windy’s sense of reason remains intact.
The characters are relatable and realistic. They make mistakes, they argue, they have secret desires. Sometimes they get along and it can be very sweet.
The story, written by Mariko Tamaki, is told through dialogue and sometimes Rose’s inner monologue. The tone is never condescending and treats potential teenage readers as equals. The themes are also universal enough to engage adults of all ages.
The dialogue is so well-written it’s easy to hear it in your head as natural speech. Rose’s narration is also engaging – at times poetic – and adds depth to her parents’ characters. She recounts amusing stories they used to tell her about where she came from (such as the frozen foods section of the local grocery store).
She also describes the problems they’re having, or as much as she knows about them. We get to find out more when she’s not around.
There are moments when issues of sexism and feminism arise, such as when the girls overhear some local teenage girls being referred to as “sluts.” Rose repeats the insult in front of her mom, who lets her know that she is less than pleased.
Both mothers are good role models in this respect. They have their own issues because they’re believable humans, but they also have a good grasp on parenting.
The artwork is so beautiful you find yourself lingering on the images, savouring every panel. Jillian Tamaki is a fantastic artist and her style is perfect for the story. The colour palette is a mix of of inky blues and off-white, which works well with the dreamy atmosphere and for a story set in a seaside town.
The panels are uncluttered yet detailed in all the right places, and there are some gorgeous full-page images which maintain the appropriate pace and add to the immersive nature of the book.
This One Summer is a stunning and enchanting graphic novel which avoids the clichés and potential pitfalls of a coming-of-age story. It evokes nostalgia along with the reality of girlhood and its problems. A magnificent achievement; hopefully there will be more Tamaki collaborations to come.