This One Summer

Created by Jillian Tamaki/Mariko Tamaki
Published by First Second

The coming of age story (or bildungsroman, as Wikipedia has recently taught me) is an important thing. Everyone, at some point in their lives, comes of age; a story can act as a guiding point, something to relate to and empathize with. However, the actual moment where one comes of age tends to be presented as a sort of philosophical or sexual awakening. One finds oneself with a knowledge of the world, an innate and completely rational understanding of one’s own desires and thoughts and feelings.

Unfortunately, as awesome as that would be, it’s not how it works. This One Summer is a noteworthy book because it does not do this. Rather, it explores the beginnings of this formative point in one’s life with characters who have real emotional depth, who feel like actual, relatable people, rather than puppets of their writer’s point.

This One Summer follows two friends, Rose, 13, and Windy, 11, during a summer spent in cabins on a lake. This summer is different, though, as the older of the two begins to realize that her parents aren’t infallible and seeks refuge in the distraction of the local teenage drama, exposing her to a world of consequences. The book explores her coming of age more through changes to her person - sudden yet inevitable angst and anger, as well as an interest in the forbidden - rather than by focusing on bodily changes or removing her innocence through sexual encounters. It is through prohibited R-rated horror films, a gradual distancing from her younger and less mature friend, new language, and opinions formed on hearsay and conjecture.

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, cousins, work together very well. The art is black and white with a blue wash that wears its manga influence on its sleeve. The medium is fully taken advantage of, with excellent panel layouts and some wonderful visualizations of metaphor (one in particular of the concept of butterflies in your stomach stands out pretty well). The only problem I had with the book was that, although the story that needed to be told was wrapped up nicely, there seemed to be much more to explore. The book focuses on one particular character and her point of view, but there were so many implications, things half heard and vaguely said (as does tend to happen in real life), and I found myself wanting more exploration of the characters around her.

Coming of age is rarely an adventure (in the traditional sense, at least). There is no sudden realization full of life changing knowledge, understanding, or empathy. Realistically, when one loses one’s innocence one is likely not yet having sex, or really, doing anything worse than watching slasher flicks and engaging in petty rebellion. This One Summer does something great by telling a story that is more like the beginnings of the actual, extremely gradual process that is becoming a young adult. If I had a child, this is a book I would most definitely want them to read.