"You remember that time your mom made up that ghost story about the woman who carried her heart around in her purse?"
Rose and Windy are summer friends, who see each other every year at Awago Beach. Rose is twelve or thirteen; Windy is a year and a half younger, and their friendship faces strains. Rose's parents are drifting apart for reasons we only gradually learn. Rose, meanwhile, finds herself drawn to an older boy with a pregnant girlfriend.
Yes, it's a graphic novel about coming of age during that memorable summer when everything changed, and the child began to see the dark truths of the adult world. The topic isn't original. What writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Jillian Tamaki bring to this breakout work from 2014 are credible characters and settings. As a bonus, the story features significant intertextuality with nearly every major teen horror movie of the last thirty years.
Japanese manga has influenced Jillian Tamaki's artwork, but she has developed her own style and creates a beautifully-realized Canadian hinterland. This One Summer moves elegantly from fine detail to detailed splash panel, and several illustrations capture and carry the emotional weight of the moment: Rose and Windy separated in the night, Rose running home in imagined fright. We find on these pages visual haiku. We're in the real world, but the possibility of horror haunts certain scenes, lurking just out of view.
The characters feel real—spectacularly ordinary and not always likeable. Rose is at turns sympathetic and appalling. Windy can be childish and (for Rose) embarrassing, and she treats sugar like an addict does crack. She proves more understanding of the pregnant girl's situation, however, than her older friend. This One Summer features perhaps the most realistic comic-book depiction of coming-of-age in the context of a friendship since Ghost World.
The plot initially seems episodic, but the greater arcs gradually reveal themselves. We see things as they affect the protagonist, even if much of the drama happens to people around her. The climax is a bit forced, but it is not unbelievable, and it brings together two major plotlines.
The story has enough depth and content issues to appeal to older readers, and enough relevance for the younger ones. It feels strangely in-between (appropriate, I suppose, for the protagonist) and may lose as many of readers from these audiences as it draws, for precisely these reasons. This One Summer aims at the YA audience and has obvious appeal for girls. Nevertheless, everyone who approaches it with an open mind will find a worthwhile read.
Title: This One Summer
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Jillian Tamaki
ISBN: 9781554981526, 9781554987061, 159643774X
First Published: 2014