Published by First Second on May 6, 2014
A graphic novel as good as This One Summer is hard to find. The story revolves around a single summer in the life of a girl who is on the cusp of adolescence. Everything is formative at that age. Events big and small all add up to shape a future that the child is only beginning to imagine. This is a story about the perils of family, the difficulty of growing up, and the process of learning to cope with life's complexity.
Rose and her parents go to their summer cottage on the beach where Rose hangs out with her friend Windy. They talk about boys (of course) and sex (of course), two topics about which they know little. They swim and watch scary movies and bond. They're surrounded by adult drama that they often don't quite understand. Rose's mother is unhappy and is doing her best to make her unhappiness known to the world, creating tension in Rose's summer, particularly after her father returns to the city. Rose takes a keen interest in a scruffy 18-year-old boy from the corner store although she doesn't know how to deal with her curiosity about him. Fortunately, she hasn't entered the raging hormone teenage years. The boy has, of course, and his raging hormones have gotten him into a messy situation.
I love Rose's attitude. Here's her take on Sex and the City: "Like, so they're 40 and they're having sex. Who cares?" Rose is always trying to puzzle out the meaning of adult behavior, even the behaviors of those who are only a few years older. Mariko Tamiko captures that uncertainty perfectly.
I also love the way Jillian Tamaki's art nearly always conveys a sense of action, even if it's just a bird in flight or a blowing leaf. As they should be in a graphic novel, many panels are free of words. The art (all sketched in blue) creates just the right atmosphere for the story.
The story is low-key, told at a relaxed summer pace, and is utterly convincing. It's also surprisingly captivating and brutally honest without ever becoming melodramatic. It captures a stage of life better than most text-based literary novels can manage. Fans of serious graphic novels -- and any fan of good story-telling -- should consider spending time with This One Summer.