This one summer, things are different, two best friends grow up, and a family flourishes together through rounds of fighting and uncertainty. Cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki do storytelling through art with their design of the graphic novel, “This One Summer.” It’s a fast-paced tale that follows a young girl, Rose who craves adventure with a budding sense of curiosity.
Since she was young, Rose and her family have always gone to Awago Beach. The Tamakis paint a classic picture of summer scenery and aesthetic. Each year, she stays in a quaint cabin by the shore near her friend, Windy. Together, they explore Awago and spend as much time together as they can before Rose has to go back home. Yet, this summer is a tad different from the others.
The Tamakis explore the meaning of family and relationships in the novel. The cousins had previously written a plot that sheds light on touchy topics and secret longings in their previous collaboration, “Skim.” In comparison, their newest graphic novel is more lighthearted, but continues to highlight concepts of longing but in a different perspective.
The story revolves around Rose’s relationships. Her parents won’t stop fighting —the stressful trip to the beach doesn’t help the situation. Her mother constantly criticizes her father for the smallest things, which eventually leads him to go back home for a few days. In the middle of it all, Rose is overwhelmed with anxiety and resentment toward her mother. However, she realizes there’s nothing she can do about it. As their daughter, she can’t understand the root of the issue. Still, the novel follows Rose’s learning process as she becomes closer with her mother through the complicated ordeal.
At the same time, Rose and Windy stumble upon some drama stirring up with young adults that work at the beach’s local general store. There’s rumor of a teenage girl who became pregnant after having sex with one of the boys working at the shop, yet the girls don’t quite understand the significance of it all, and are still discovering their own girlhood. Every time they visit the shop, they learn new things about the story and have conversations about what it could possibly mean.
Experiencing girlhood is an awkward reality, and Rose and Windy face it by observing the lives of those who have already experienced it. They eavesdrop on flirting teenagers, judge how older girls dress and uncover the secrets of Rose’s own mother’s struggle with pregnancy. Most importantly, they become aware of loneliness women face dealing with unwanted pregnancies and miscarriages.
What makes the plot compelling is that by the end of the novel, every side story becomes intertwined with one another. Rose experiences emotions she’s never felt before and must figure out how to take control of them. What she expects to be a normal trip to Awago Beach becomes a bloom out of adolescence and an enlightening encounter with the adult world.
However, it’s not all deep family drama. Rose and Windy are able to enjoy themselves with scary movie nights, beach days and afternoons with photoshoots in between it all. When reading “This One Summer,” one can hear the sounds and feel the sensation of summer on their skin through each word and image. The Tamakis use sounds like the “crunch, crunch” of leaves in the forest, a “whoosh” to describe diving into the sea, and a “chatter, chatter” of the teeth after coming out of the ocean water at night. There are panels where Rose and Windy dash to the beach in excitement, and the art includes sweat dripping off their faces and dirt being kicked up as they run. Yet, some pages are scarce of artwork and only contain a few words to give emphasis on a specific scene, while other pages are filled with images and heavy dialogue. The reader is able to see through the characters’ eyes and feel their emotions with wispy, brush-like artwork.
It’s OK to be curious as a kid, at least that’s what the Tamakis seem to be going for. Rose and Windy are still growing as people, and are able to learn a great amount about themselves thanks to the unexpected sequence of events. The novel provides lessons of patience — for both kids and adults — compassion and self-discovery.
In a way “This One Summer” encompasses a theme of nostalgia, and it makes the reader feel as if they have dipped their toes into the waters of Awago Beach themselves.
Contact Kailey Cheng at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.