The medium of the graphic novel is often considered synonymous with the superhero genre. For those who only read the highest selling comics each month, it’s unlikely that he or she would come across a title that isn’t populated by characters in capes, spandex, or some kind of super-suit. Of course, comics have evolved quite a bit over the last century or so. Whereas today the genre is primarily associated with masculine, super-powered slugfests, comics were once a much more light-hearted affair. This One Summer, however, is something else entirely… and that’s a good thing.
Written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin, Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer is a graphic novel that does not feature any powers, action scenes, or superhero origin stories. Instead, the Tamakis have crafted a unique coming-of-age tale that showcases that comics are just as capable of delivering a poignant, emotional story just as well as an action-packed thrill ride.
The story follows the young, teenaged Rose Wallace as she arrives at the fictional Awago Beach for her annual stay at her summer home with her parents. Like any girl her age, Rose can’t get away from her parents soon enough; instead, she spends the majority of her time during the summer with a friend from the area, a younger girl named Windy. Though much of the story focuses on the friendship of these two young girls, the nuances of childhood and maturation that are explored are sure to strike a chord with all readers, regardless of age or gender.
Anyone with fond memories of their youth, running around in the summer without any real responsibilities, will identify with the relationship that unfolds between the two girls. While Rose is a bit introverted, she is brought out of her shell by the goofy, often unabashedly outspoken, Windy. The two spend the summer swimming, eating candy, and watching old horror movies that they technically still aren’t old enough to be watching. Alas, they’re just like any other kids.
If you’re looking for a catastrophic conflict or a battle of good versus evil, then you’re sure to be disappointed. This One Summer is, at its heart, a story about growing up. On one level, the story tracks the girls as they first begin to think about boys; despite Rose’s protests that she finds the opposite sex repulsive, she’s often seen ogling an older boy, Dunc, who works in the local store in town. The prepubescent girls also joke about their growth into women, such as when Windy asks Rose with curiosity, “Do all your friends have boobs?” Though they have their fair share of fun throughout the summer, Rose soon realizes that there’s a lot she still doesn’t know about.
The two girls stumble into an argument between Dunc and a girlfriend of his, experiencing for the first time some of the ramifications that come with being young and thinking you’re old enough to engage in things like love or sex. Rose and Windy, for example, witness Dunc and his guy friends engage in “locker room talk” as they call girls “sluts,” only for Rose to later adopt the same type of talk that unjustly shames females like herself. In fact, Rose’s disdain for the supposedly “slutty” girls in town without appropriating any criticism for the guys leads to Windy calling Rose “kind of sexist” – which, of course, only leads to another argument between them.
Similarly, the rife between the town’s local teenagers is mirrored by the characterization of Rose’s parents. While her father is quite jovial, perennially joking around and trying to provoke a laugh, Rose’s mother is rather soft-spoken and – in Rose’s eyes – seen as the more domineering parent. As the story continues, however, Rose’s perception of love and relationships is challenged on several occasions, especially when she learns why there has been so much tension between her parents. The realizations about her mother in particular are some of the book’s shining moments.
Overall, This One Summer is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read. Though the demographic in mind may be girls in the 14-18 age range, there are plenty of mature values that are explored, albeit through the eyes of a teenage girl. Anyone whom has ever read Craig Thompson‘s celebrated graphic novel Blankets from 2003 would certainly enjoy the tone of this book, as well. Moreover, Jillian’s artwork here, in short, is exquisite. Her ability to convey an array of emotions in her character’s faces is impressive. The use of shading is also quite adept, whether used to illustrate the expanse of lush landscapes or the bleakness of being underwater in the ocean. Lastly, Mariko deserves a ton of credit for being able to pull off a story that can at times seem so innocent, yet a panel or two later seem irrevocably mature.
Whether you’re a comic lover who needs a break from the superhero-saturated market, or an avid reader interested in reliving the contradictory complexities of growing up, This One Summer is worthy of a spot on your shelf.
For those who have read it, what did you think? Is This One Summer worth a read? Or do you only read superhero/action comics? Let us know in the comments section or over on our Twitter page!