Book review: This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, is an ode to those two glorious months of ideal Canadian weather, so often spent at a family cottage or by the beach. This graphic novel takes the reader through the formative summer in a young girl’s life and produces a certain nostalgia that is distinctly Canadian. Rose, the young female protagonist, is at the angsty age where everything and everyone is uncool. She returns to her familiar summer home and her old friend Windy; a free-spirited, wild-haired girl, just a bit younger than Rose. Over the course of the summer, these two girls remind us of the very essentials of girlhood in all its awkward glory as they crush on an older boy, eat too much candy and share laughs about all that comes with growing up.

The book’s more serious moments are a chance for the reader to glimpse at the protagonist’s transition into adulthood, as she gains knowledge of her mother’s miscarriage and deals with her parents constant arguing. Although she shows an attitude of naive hostility toward her mother for most of the novel, Rose displays some signs of empathy and adult-like understanding by the end as she faces the inevitability of maturation. The novel also poignantly explores some of the trials of adulthood with the tensions of marriage and the difficulty of raising a young adult. Despite the sometimes sombre material, This One Summer is ultimately a subtly cheerful and true-to-life depiction of growing up. The novel packs sentimentality and good-humoured fun into a single bundle and presents it in such a way that it never gets too heavy.

Jillian’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Mariko’s soft summer song. The gentle blue and purple brush strokes capture the permeating theme of water, so often associated with summers spent by the beach. Entire pages are used to create a sense of space and setting, encompassing the reader’s senses and allowing them to experience the summer along with Rose. A two page spread is dedicated to a moonlit sky with tiny stars above an expanse of sand, and another whole page shows the deep blue water brushing up against the shore where Rose stands. The reader is engulfed and transported to Awago Beach, the setting for the entire novel.

This graphic novel is a casually quick read that you won’t want to put down until you’ve read cover to cover. Set aside a few hours and let the Tamakis take you through a delightfully classic coming-of-age summer escapade.

[P]hoto: Groundwood Books