This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, RL: TEEN

There was some really great pre-publication raves about This One Summer by cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.   The most interesting thing about the buzz, to me, was the brevity of the adulation - the kind of praise that does not send up my super-skeptic-sensors. Even the publisher, the fantastic FirstSecond, kept their kudos to two sentences: "This book is so, so good! We are 100% sure that you will like it." And they were 100% right. I devoured This One Summer in two sittings and am still trying to collect my thoughts so that I can tell you something more about this book beyond repeating the sentiments of the publisher. It really is THAT good. And when a book it THAT good, the pressure to convey why in a review is immense. I hope I do justice to this amazing, marvelous book that is an all encompassing experience.

This One Summer begins with the Wallace's drive to their vacation home in Awago Beach, a fictional Canadian town. They have been coming every summer for ten days for as long as Rose can remember. And Windy, a couple of years younger than Rose and the sister she never had, has always been there too. But this summer, things are different. Rose's mother is withdrawn and silent, refusing to swim in the lake. Rose's father, always ready with a joke and up for a walk on the beach to collect rocks, is not himself. The freedom of vacationing in a small town and distracted parents gives Rose room to roam and take tentative steps into the adult, or teenaged, world she keenly observes during visits to Brewster's, the general store in town. After striking up a conversation with the teenaged clerk, Dunc, while renting a scary movie and buying Twizzlers, Windy and Rose embark on a week of horror films that keep them coming back to the Brewster's and the drama of the townies who hang out there. The climax of the novel finds the quiet, mysteriously sad world of Rose's parents colliding with the loud, sloppy world of the Awago teens in a way that feels organic and wholly satisfying without leaving Rose as deeply scarred as literary coming of age moments like this often do.

What is so deeply moving and powerful about This One Summer is the way that the sheer beauty and sharp perspective of Jillian Tamaki's illustrations, in shades of dark blue and grey, partner seamlessly with the poignant, genuine writing of Mariko Tamaki. The plot of This One Summer unfolds at a pace with the vacation itself, slowly and languidly, with pauses that give readers the chance to stop and drink in the world of Awago Beach, the way that Rose and Windy inhale deeply on their last day, trying to save the smells of Awago in their lungs. While the illustrations make the setting is tangible, it is the characters in This One Summer that make it utterly unforgettable. Markio Tamaki skillfully recalls that period in childhood when, depending on your personality, you are taking timid steps toward becoming the person you will someday grow into, as Rose does, or, if you are like Windy, making the bold, loud, confident gestures that call it to you. Tall, slender and blonde, observant Rose watches the teens at Brewster's as they drunkenly, raucously take their own steps into adulthood, trying to piece together their interactions, attempting to share what she sees, but ultimately hanging back in her own world. Windy, is shorter and pudgy with short, dark hair, and comfortable in her own skin. She wonders out loud how big her breasts will get while examining them closely, causing nearby beach goers loudly remind her she is in a public place. She inhales sugar and shows off her krunking skills to Rose. Jillian Tamaki brings these girls and their families to life vividly and in ways that are familiar within this kind of graphic novel but also push the envelope. Characters have hawkish noses, receding chins and generous curves. They look like real people, making the world of This One Summer even easier to slip into and see and feel and almost smell all around as you read.

What strikes me as most masterful about the Tamaki's storytelling ability is the way in which the parallel story lines of the mysterious sadness of Rose's parents and the emphatic drama of the town teens are revealed to the reader, but not to Rose. When Rose's mother finally shares the reason for her taciturnity, she shares it with Windy's mother, who assures her that it is information Rose can handle knowing. At the same time, Rose is watching a similar story unfold between Dunc and his girlfriend, even almost inserting herself in their crisis, but never knowing for sure what has happened between them. As This One Summer ends, the reader doesn't know if Rose ever finds out what happened to her mother and Rose and Windy remain on the cusp of big changes, happily digging and play in a hole at the beach like kids the kids they are, but with the knowledge that the adult world is closer, more visible than ever before. Innocence is not lost, tragedy remains one or two steps removed from Rose making This One Summer all the more deeply moving in the way that the Tamaki's find meaning in everyday experiences.

Such a stellar collection of graphic novelists and YA authors blurbed This One Summer, and with such elegant praise, that I just had to share it here. After the author's names, find links to my reviews of their books, all of which you would enjoy if you liked This One Summer:

"Jillian’s art is simply gorgeous, and the perfect companion to the beautiful—and sometimes painful—truth behind Mariko’s every word."
-- Stephanie Perkins, Anna and the French Kiss

This One Summer is a precisely written, exquisitely illustrated exploration of the moment when childhood tips over into adolescence. For the second time the Tamakis have raised the bar for young adult comics.
--Hope Larson A Wrinkle in Time : The Graphic Novel

“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
--Faith Erin Hicks, Friends with Boysand Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

"This One Summer is a beautiful, relatable story of that summer everyone has had, where things happen around you but nothing happens to you."
--Julie Halpern, Don't Stop Now

“Read this and remember that time.  Read this and feel the innocence and the intimate, wrestling out at the beach.  Read this and keep it like a secret, or let it run wild like a bonfire night.  Read this for the joy and the grit, the tears and the sunburn, what you can’t remember and what you’ll never forget.  Read This One Summer and swear you were there.”
—Daniel Handler, Why We Broke Up

"This One Summer teeters on the fault line of preadolescence, as cozy childhood naivety washes away to reveal the dark complexities of adult life. Jillian Tamaki might be the best illustrator in the entire biz – her drawings are immersive, sensual and overwhelmingly beautiful. A magic synergy is kindled when paired with the storytelling of her cousin Mariko, who implements the best elements of graphic novels, manga, bande dessinée and modern literary prose to awaken a world of sophisticated naturalism. I loved it."
-- Craig Thompson, creator of the amazing coming-of-age graphic novel, Blankets.

Source: Review Copy

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