The term “coming of age” is one that is completely numb to us. For years we’ve heard novels, movies, TV shows and even comic books described as “coming of age tales.” So much so that the definition seems a bit skewed. In fact you’re probably thinking of some teenager in a new town learning to be different from what they are. Which sure… that’s a coming of age tale, but when you boil it down it really means that a character has come to the point in their life in which change is inevitable. In many ways it means that a different level of maturity has been reached and with that something that was can never be again. This One Summer is definitely a coming of age tale and one that I’ve been meaning to review since before it actually released. In fact it’s already been several months since Kevin and I talked about it on the CBMFP. But, it’s such a good story that I couldn’t let it slip by without a review. It’s by far one of the best books of 2014 and while I can think of several other titles that were good or even great, overall the year was kind of disappointing as a whole. Hell I would even say that This One Summer stacks up against most of the releases from this year as well.
The story as you can imagine happens during the summer. Now I could go on to say that it’s about this and that and things happen, but really it’s the complexity of the story that makes This One Summer so damn good. Because while it is a coming of age tale, it’s also so much more. I know I tricked you.
At the core of the story I think it’s about relationships and every variety there are. Family relationships, marital relationships, romantic, friendships, father and daughter, father and mother and the list goes on. It’s like a math equation in which you need to figure out how many outcomes are possible given a set amount of variables and discovering that number can be quite high.
If we dive into these relationships we discover first the family dynamic of Rose and her parents which then of course instantly spawns off into the martial relationship, but then also daughter plus both parents. It’s this threading by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki that’s so brilliant. We see the dynamic almost instantly as Rose’s father begins telling the same story he always tells as the family makes their way to the beach house they stay at every summer vacation. Clearly the relationship between husband and wife is strained and this has strained the relationship between mother and daughter. What it all boils down to is communication and understanding. Rose doesn’t understand what’s wrong with her mother and really neither does she. But what neither of them are able to communicate are their true feelings and what the other is doing to make them feel that way. If you’ve ever been a child (that is to say you grew up having parents because some don’t) then you will instantly relate to Rose.
Then there’s her relationship with her father which is the polar opposite. She’s a daddy’s girl that wants mother’s approval. This is a great portrayal though as it shows that as great as Dad is, he’s human and makes mistakes or lacks patience when patience is needed. You like him, but you can see him stumble as a husband which humanizes him for the story.
On the friendship side we have Windy. She’s a little younger than Rose, but she lives in a different world. She has more knowledge than she should about adult subjects and her personal style is different from those that live in the small town they’re families are staying in. On paper Windy and Rose shouldn’t be friends. You look at their interests and family makeup and it doesn’t work, but we all have those friends. Hell some of us are those friends, the ones that people look at you and wonder why the hell you get along when you’re so far apart on the spectrum of personalities. That’s Windy and Rose to the “T.”
The duo get wrapped up in some Townie business as the guy that runs the video store/convenience store/basically the only good store in town, has his personal life spill out into the open. The girls begin to piece together the story by experiencing parts of the guy and his girlfriend’s’ life that play out in public. This is a great device to show just how different Windy and Rose are as Rose likes the guy. She’s too young for him, but then when has that ever stopped a young child from having a crush on someone older? Rose takes the side of the guy and even begins to put her nose deeper into their business because she doesn’t understand the complexity of relationships.
Windy on the other hand is a bit more knowledgeable and having been raised by parents that most would consider hippies, she sides with the girlfriend (note, they have names, but by knowing them through the context of the story you’ll become more wrapped in the drama yourself). She takes offense when Rose calls the girlfriend a slut because Rose doesn’t have any understanding of the word and is just repeating someone else’s words. Throughout the drama of the Townie’s relationship the complexity of Rose and Windy’s relationship grows and changes as well which is masterful storytelling.
The story is very complex and full of deeper meaning and yet it’s easy to digest. At least if you’ve lived any kind of life that has been populated by relationships. Because relationships are complex. They’re never perfect and there will always be ups and downs. You will wrong someone and they will wrong you and through every hardship the relationship makes it through it’s strengthened. In a way that too is what This One Summer is about.
One of my favorite things about This One Summer is that it captures that fleeting moment. I know that doesn’t make sense so I’ll explain; it’s one of those times in your life that you can never get back. The thing is they’re only recognizable when you look back on your life or are already going through a big change. For Rose, it’s this summer experience because eventually the family will stop coming. She’ll be too old or the house will be sold. It’s very much a moment that you need to enjoy while it’s there, but you don’t know it until it’s gone and you’re left wanting more of that fleeting moment and forced to recognize that life it just full of them and that’s the way it is.
With this incredible story is incredible artwork. In fact I think the artwork deserves more praise because it brings this world to life and makes it feel very real. This could easily be an autobiographical story with the way it’s told and the details put into it. What’s very impressive about the art though is what the visual storytelling accomplishes. There are so many scenes in which we really see the world through Rose and Windy’s perspective and it reminds you of what it’s like to be a kid again.
There are two scenes back to back that really capture this as Windy and Rose eat gummy feet. Windy nibbles on the second big toe and it gives her so much personality as you know that’s what she’s done over and over before, but it’s such a kid thing to do at the same time. Then Rose holds one up and closes one eye to see the guy and his girlfriend making out. It’s projects this hazy distorted image, but again it defined her. Maybe it was her way of being able to pretend that was her kissing the guy or maybe it was something that only a child’s curiosity could incite someone to do.
Another strong compliment about the art and visual storytelling was the way that the art would often show something and have no dialogue or narration to accompany it. It reminded me a lot of animated movies, particularly from Studio Ghibli, when it did this. The visual has meaning or at the very least helps build a believable world. Something about its use in This One Summer makes the story feel real. The art really serves to make the reader feel like a silent observer during all of this and to be sucked into a story like that, well it’s incredible.
This One Summer is great for young adults since it’s very much for them and the main characters are young adults. But I would also recommend it to anyone that reads, whether they read comics or not, because there’s no chance that someone picks this up and doesn’t get swept away by the story. There’s no way they don’t start seeing a little of themselves in these pages or a little of their family and friends. It’s not just a graphic novel, it’s an experience and one that I would highly recommend you jump into much like the characters on the front cover.