Title: This One Summer
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Published: by First Second in 2014
This One Summer is the story of fifteen-year-old Rose heading to Awago Beach for summer vacation, just like they do every single year. Rose meets up with her summer vacation friend, Windy, who is a year-and-one-half younger. But trouble starts brewing when Rose sees her parents argue and pull apart from each other. Though it seems strange to have everything resolved by the time the vacation is over, This One Summer uses many common events adolescent girls will experience to navigate growing up to relate to the audience.
One key aspect of This one Summer that makes it so good is that Mariko Tamaki is able to capture accurately what it’s like to be an adolescent girl. Right away, Rose develops a sort-of crush on the boy who works at the local convenience store. It’s one of those rustic shops near beach vacation spots that have everything from marshmallows to DVD rentals–anything vacationers would require. That boy–“The Dud”–randomly nicknames Rose “blondie,” a highly unimaginative choice. Yet, Rose’s face lights up and blushes at “The Dud’s” remark.
Readers may question why Rose would have any feelings for “The Dud.” He seems pretty typical for an eighteen-year-old boy, and even a bit unmotivated. Rose never flirts with him, nor does she make an effort to get to know more about him. Yet there is that category of good girl who knows that she has a little crush but is too shy to do anything about it. Rose behaves like a regular adolescent girl when she makes excuses to get things from the convenience store just to see this boy who paid her a small bit of attention.
The Tamaki cousins also accurately represent adolescent girls by carefully choosing what activities the girls do. To distract each other from a difficult topic, Rose and Windy decide to play M.A.S.H., a game every young girl has played. Players ask fate if they get to live in a Mansion, Apartment, Shed, or House, and to whom they are married, and how many kids they have. Rose chooses the president, Justin Bieber, and Mitch (a.k.a. “The Dud”) as her potential life mate, so including “The Dud” is another insight into her feelings for the older boy. When they aren’t playing games, the girls can be found renting R-rated horror movies, a sign that they want to be grown up, but which demonstrates that they can’t really handle the screaming, slashing, and blood squirting.
In their younger teenage years, girls want to grow up, but they may not be fully prepared to handle their choices. Watching scary movies is one thing, but paying attention to older teenage girls is another. Rose and Windy watch as the local girls, who are around eighteen, flirt openly with the boys at the convenience store, which of course makes Rose jealous. Rose decides older teen girls are so dumb that she calls them “drunks” and “sluts.” Really, Rose isn’t sure of what she’s saying, but she’s trying to understand older teen girls to figure out why she’s different from them. Watching older girls has long been a big part of learning for adolescent girls. This is not to say that older teens are the pinnacle of intelligence. Rose and Windy accidentally overhear an older girl ask her friend, “Hey, Sarah, was it you who said that sperm can live, for like, three weeks in your stomach?”
Since Mariko Tamaki writes teen girls so well, it’s important that Jillian Tamaki illustrate in a way that complements the words. Each character is very specific looking, meaning that they’re easy to identify. While some graphic novels make characters less detailed, which allows readers to insert themselves into the story, the people in This One Summer are not meant to be anyone. Many of the images are highly detailed:
The beautiful detail in the drawing makes This One Summer almost read like snapshots in a photo album of a lovely vacation.
Yet, Jillian Tamaki is an artist with many styles, and readers will notice that some other styles slip into the graphic novel. Windy and Rose, most noticeably, often border on a manga look:
I was a bit confused about why Jillian Tamaki would chose to lean toward a manga style in some of her pictures when she is so capable of drawing realistically, like she does with Uncle Daniel. It might be that since Rose and Windy are drawn the most often in the book, Tamaki chose a simpler image for time’s sake. It might also be that we’re meant to insert ourselves into Windy’s or Rose’s characters, since the book is about adolescent girlhood. The less specific the face, the more likely readers are to see themselves in the character.
Despite my puzzlement over the manga style, I found all of the illustrations of the characters appealing. Windy is especially adorable. I was worried that her 18 month age difference from Rose meant this would be a story about Rose outgrowing Windy, but the girls challenge and enrich each other. Windy is constantly eating and drinking soda like a thirteen-year-old girl, and she’s not afraid to dance in a way that makes me love her:
Jillian Tamaki does just do people well; she’s also brilliant when it comes to scenery. She incorporates grass, water, siding on the houses, trees, and beach sand, all in great detail. Furthermore, J. Tamaki makes use of space in a way that makes This One Summer seem expansive to the point of never ending:
This two-page image can be twisted and turned in different directions: the lake on the bottom, the lake being in front of the girls, the lake on top looking like an ominous cloud that matches Rose’s concerns noted on the side.
Another thing Jillian Tamaki does that I don’t see as much in other graphic novels is she adds lots of little words in her images, just bits of onomatopoeia. In some scenes, the words simply made the image more dynamic in an otherwise wordless part of the story, like when Rose’s dad is on the grill and Rose is taking photographs:
Readers may wonder why they need these words. Isn’t it obvious that a grill sizzles and a camera clicks? But, on pages that have no dialogue or thought captions, the words give the reader with which to engage and view the scene as active, as in something is taking place and these characters are truly moving around. In other places, the onomatopoeia helped me understand what was happening, like this scene with “The Dud” and his bike:
Because he’s texting and biking, and Rose is also biking while holding an object, I thought at first that the distracted bicyclists crashed. However, the small “DUMP” by boy’s front tire made me realize that I was supposed to see him as a careless kid who doesn’t take care of his things. Instead of putting down the kickstand, which would keep his bike out of the filth, he just dumps it on the ground and leaves it–a clear sign that he doesn’t care about much, which is part of his personality.
Though This One Summer is a slice-of-life story that takes place over about ten days, it is full in the way that it captures the entirety of the difficulties of being a teenager. This One Summer took me back to my younger teenage years. I could relate to the difficulties that Rose faced when her parents argued the whole vacation and the isolation she experienced as a result. Some of what Rose thought she knew was changed as she watched different scenarios between her parents or the older teens, or even discussions with Windy, unfold to prove her preconceived notions wrong.