This One Summer

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Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had.

But this summer is different.

Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other. – [X]

As I hinted in one of the Top Ten Tuesdays for this month, Nafiza managed to snag us an early copy of this fabulous new book from the Tamaki cousins. So, thank you to First Second for sending it along, and to Nafiza for letting me read and review it! And since This One Summer is not quite out yet, I will do my best to keep this review a spoiler-free zone.

While I was re-reading the book this past week, a friend and I shared a laugh over how Craig Thompson’s blurb on the back just says, “I loved it”. I mean, thanks Craig. I’m sure you did. That really helps. You know. But then, I started to think about what I wanted to say about this one, about why I too “loved it”, and how I could possibly explain why I loved it without revealing every small detail as evidence of why you must also fall in love with this story. I have come to the conclusion that it is a near impossible feat. Still, I guess it’s my job to try anyway. Here goes.

There’s this lovely moment in The History Boys, when a character explains what he likes to refer to as “subjunctive history”. He defines “subjunctive” as the mood in literature where something may or may not have happened. In a way, it is imagined. Looking at in another way, it is the mood of possibilities. And that is what reading this book feels like. A study in subjunctive history. Not just focussing on Rose’s life, but also the lives of the people around her- each of whose fragile, personal histories are tangled in hers.

On one level, the book is all about family drama. And as with all family dramas, no one (except the readers, perhaps) know the whole story. The two girls especially are left guessing as to what it is that is setting Rose’s parents off. In the meanwhile, Rose’s family drama is paralleled by Awago’s own drama consisting of a less-than-charming cast of teenagers. Rose and Windy find themselves colliding with older teens and trying to understand what the romantic, sexual world has in store for them.

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Rose’s age, and Windy’s, is an age between childhood and adulthood. There is this feeling of waiting for change and transformation that comes through so clearly in the book. And because, one way or another, their respective families are unavailable to them, they do what almost every girl does and go forth to uncover things for themselves. For instance, they are old enough to know, in theory, what they would or would not do* (look forward to a great conversation on oral sex), but not old enough to know for sure what the act entails or even if they want to do it. They know, for example, what the word “slut” means, but without having any idea about the emotional repercussions of slut-shaming, the gender politics behind the word, and the dilemma that a word like “slut” presents to them i.e. do they hate “sluts” for their sexuality, or are they envious of them, or are they both?

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It is like watching girls trying to figure out who or what girls actually are, and they do so by looking at what others think it means to be female in this world. A constant thread through the ongoing drama, is the renting of classic horror movies. Rose and Windy watch these movies with the same sense of comprehension and confusion, as they watch the drama unfold between the Awago teens and Rose’s family. And somewhere along the way, they start to understand what it is to be a woman, a woman in possession of her sexuality- a woman who is generally punished by the horror genre for having this agency. Except that such an attitude, as Rose displays, is not really limited to the realm of movies.

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The characters themselves are just incredibly rendered- both in terms of dialogue and in terms of their design. The 13 year old in me relates to Rose’s flippantly judgemental attitude to an uncomfortable degree, and I really enjoyed seeing Windy be so comfortable with her body because I certainly never was at her age. I actually found it relieving that Windy was such a confident character. I think that the choice to have the readers see how active and strong Windy is rather than drawing attention to how skinny Rose is, was a wise one.

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And I know I didn’t talk about the art much, but trust me when I say, Jillian Tamaki never disappoints. Nothing about the story would seem quite as convincingly summer-y if it wasn’t for the illustrations of the blinding summer sun, the rushing blue waves, and the hoodies over beach clothes … and basically every panel ever. I would go so far as to say that some of my favourite parts of storytelling in This One Summer are the panels without words. I mean. Just. Keep an eye out for pages that only show characters walking in “silence”*, okay? I know that is incredibly vague and odd, but trust me.

Basically … I loved it! And I hope you do too!

*Oh, and while I’m asking you to keep a look out for things, wait till you reach the end- this book has the best last line I have ever encountered!