Published: May 6, 2014.
Published by: First Second.
Source: Received a finished copy of the book from the publisher. Thank you, First Second!
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.
In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.
This was my first experience in a very long time with a graphic novel. While the story didn't totally hit it out of the park for me, I'm very glad I read it because I did enjoy it and it has me planning to work graphic novels into my reading more often.
Something I think this story captured perfectly is the feeling of being young and uncertain, not totally comprehending everything that is going on around you. Rose is almost a teenager and this summer is her awkward transition phase where she is still a kid to the teens and tries to emulate them without really understanding what she's doing and saying, where she tries to act mature and scoff at her friend Windy for being immature, and where she really doesn't know how to deal with the tension surrounding her as her mother and father are in what feels like a cold war. The balance that is captured within Rose and reflected on either side by Windy and by Awago Beach's teens is expertly crafted and presented to show how confusing it can be to find yourself in that middle stage between kid and teen. If there is anything that this book absolutely nails on the head, it is this aspect of Rose's characterization.
While I definitely appreciated the tone of the novel and the authenticity of the characters, I wish more had happened plot-wise. Since it felt largely driven by the characters and how they relate to the changes Rose is experiencing in her life and the growing up she is in the middle of, there wasn't a lot of excitement in the plot. The plotline itself felt fairly stagnant and I was surprised when summer was over because it felt like not enough had actually happened for it to have spanned that length of time. I definitely appreciate that it's about the pretty basic vacation that isn't supposed to be overly exciting but instead a growing experience, but it made the plot feel a little dull. Luckily, because of the format, it read very quickly so it didn't actually drag too much.
One of the elements of the story that I wasn't crazy about was the "slut" plot point. The girls hear teenagers using the word and then begin to use it themselves without really understanding what it means. While I appreciate that this is absolutely something that tweens especially are prone to doing, I wish it had been addressed better. The girls' mothers hear them using it and sternly tell them not to, but there's never really a talk about what they're really saying with the word and why they shouldn't be using it. I think for adults who understand why we shouldn't call each other "sluts," it's not such a big deal, but younger readers - who this novel is aimed at - will likely just see a parent telling a kid not to say that word without any good reason. I think there was potential for a good discussion to be opened here but that it wasn't followed through on. I'm not one to say that a book has to teach kids anything, but if there's no life lesson prompt in that "slut" plot point, then why bother including it at all? That's just something I wish had been considered a little more.
I can't review this book without touching on the artwork. Despite being exclusively in shades of blue/purple, it still seemed vibrant. It was a perfect art style for the style of the story - a summer tale but with a deeper underside. I am always impressed by talented artists and the drawings were so appealing to look at that it helped the slower plot seem like less of a bother. The art is definitely one of my favourite aspects of the novel and I'm looking forward to another graphic novel from the Tamaki team largely for that reason.
All in all, not a book that blew me away but one with some really strong points, including the fantastic artwork that is so important to a graphic novel. Without a doubt, this one will certainly have me picking up more like it in the future.