Graphic Novel Review – This One Summer
Two cousins, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, wrote and illustrated, respectively, This One Summer. This One Summer was released in 2014 by First Second, a quality publisher of graphic novels. Mariko and Jillian have also worked together on Skim, another graphic novel that was put out by Groundwood Books in 2008. Both books are set in the cousins’ homeland of Canada.
The book stars a little shit named Rose whose family comes to Awago Beach, Ontario, Canada each summer. Her mother is suffering from depression and her joyful father is having a hard time adjusting to her shift in interests and personality. Rose retreats from time with her own family by spending time with her younger and funner life-long friend, Windy, who also visits the beach each summer. Rose and Windy have to restock supplies for their vacation (these supplies consist entirely of gummies and rented movies) at a convenience store staffed by teenage locals who also happen to be insufferable. Rose, being a tad older than Windy and entering the confusing spiral of romantic and sexual attraction, takes a liking to one of the clerks for no discernible reason, so y’know, how most attraction works. The lanky clerk in question is sexually involved with a local indigenous girl and this causes some very petty jealousy to come out of Rose. Although she has a progressive friend/family group, her surrounding culture doesn’t treat women kindly, and Rose starts making some poor decisions on how to treat the women in her life that disappoint her or are beyond her comprehension.
Jillian Tamaki uses a very, very nice style that somewhat resembles The Adventures of Tin-Tin, in that the backgrounds are very detailed, but the characters have heavy lines and simplified features. This creates a good masking effect where the characters stand out from the background very well. The establishing shots featuring outdoor environments are especially detailed, and segments that focus on small details of the environment are too. The characters vary greatly in terms of weight, but facial details are kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, the variance in body types makes each character recognizable right away after they’ve been established.
This story subverts a lot of coming of age stories in that the lead character doesn’t really seem to learn anything concrete. Many of the issues she starts having aren’t resolved and tied up with a nice little bow at the end. One of the problems she starts having is buying into the depiction of women by the culture and media as weak, and she starts blaming other women for not being able to stand on their own in situations where men are just as culpable but refuse to take action. She allows her own sense of inadequacy and inexperience to color other people in a poor light, and the main sources of her derision are her mother, and the local girl whom her convenience store crush manages to get pregnant. One non-spoilery example involving her mother comes when her extended family are on the beach and her cool-girl auntie’s cool-bro boyfriend starts cajoling Rose’s depressive mother to swim in the water. Cool boyfriend starts pulling Rose’s mother against her will and she reacts with equal physical force against it, which causes a scene. Later, when Rose is having an outburst about her mother she starts using some of cool boyfriend’s same excuses for his blatant disregard for personal boundaries, “Have some fun!”, “I’m just horsing around”, “Why does she have to be such a stick in the mud?”
I really like the artwork and I really like how the main character still has a lot of growing up to do even after the book is finished. Which should be expected, given that the main character is a pre-teen, and still has a solid lifetime of growing up to do. It feels a lot more true to life than an arc where a singular problem that the protagonist has is addressed and resolved by the stories end, especially in a story where the character’s are young and will have many years of painful self-reflection to have in the future.