The huge bummer of the graphic novel is that someone labors for ages over their creation and then you sit down with your pint of Chubby Hubby and make mincemeat of both of them within the hour. I always feel a little awful about it, and this is probably the kind of thing the French have a word for—the sorrow of beauty’s brevity.
Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a [French-word-for-the-sorrow-of-beauty’s-brevity] more hollowing than the end of summer. Those last days of August nearly slaughtered me when I was a child—time closing in and thinning out, cooling all your firefly sparks and kicking them under dead leaves. Ugh.
Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s most recent graphic novel, This One Summer, is a story, on its face, about the end of one season in the lives of two families. But it’s also—subtly, brilliantly—a story about girlness and womanness, from incipience to crux to decline, and the spaces between those lodestars and what it is to inhabit them.
The protagonist of This One Summer is Rose, a girl teetering on the cusp between child- and adulthood, away with her mother and father on their annual vacation to a little lakeside town. Rose’s summer buddy, Windy, a year and a half younger, is fascinated by Rose, but also a little leery—she watches her for clues about what her own future will hold. Windy’s at the lake with her mother, and there’s also a wonderful, salty grandmother and a couple of teenaged girls poured into short-shorts and halter tops, bringing to mind the Triple Goddess—maiden, mother, crone.
The plot, appropriate for the daze of summer, is not complicated, but for all its apparent simplicity, it’s a story with a lot of heavy stuff going on. Without being too spoilery, the subject of fertility plays a fairly central role, with marital discord setting up a good handful of scenes, plus a few cameos by our old pal Internalized Misogyny. Even death reard its seamonster head in a series of dark, disturbing panels late in the book.
Jillian Tamaki’s washed-out lavender/blue/gray scheme keeps the action at a remove, like these are your own memories dimly recalled from hot, bright days long past; it also provides a constant immersion in the melancholy at the story’s core—all the things we have to leave behind in order to become the things we’ll be.
If this all sounds too serious, let me drop the knowledge that Windy (who is so true to herself and thoroughly charming as to border on Manic Pixie Dream Summer Buddy territory) krunks at one point in the book, which, if comic book krunking doesn’t make you want to get on this like yesterday, I don’t even know.
This One Summer manages to be a sweet, poetic tribute to summer while also slyly stirring deep waters—it’s a particularly excellent read for women, from middle graders on up.