Review: This One Summer

thisonesummer-coverThis One Summer
Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Groundwood Books, $21.99

Sometimes I don’t want to read about superheroes. Don’t get me wrong I love spandex covered biceps and boobies as much as the next guy (they defined my childhood after all), but superhero stories are somewhat limited in emotional quality. This isn’t to say that these comics can’t show us strong emotions, which they can, who among us didn’t tense up when we watched Superman going toe to toe with Doomsday like Rocky facing off against some alien powered version of Ivan Drago? Who among us didn’t want to track down and punish the Joker when he sexually assaulted Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke? And if you tell me that you didn’t shed even a single tear when poor Jason Todd found his long lost mother, was betrayed by his long lost mother, was beaten near to death by a tire iron swung by the Joker and finally gave his life in a vain attempt to save his long lost mother from an explosion (all in the course of a measly four issues) then I kind of feel like you have no soul and maybe we can’t be friends anymore. No, Superhero books when they are written well are all about strong emotion, it’s just that they tend to be about violence, loss and sacrifice.

Thankfully, not everyone who applies themselves to the graphic arts wants to limit themselves to the brightly colored world of the superhero and instead some few devote themselves to telling small highly personal stories instead. This One Summer written and Drawn by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki is such a tale and has much more in common with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese and Art Speigelman’s Maus than it does with the average comic book.

This One Summer is a coming of age story about a 13-year-old girl named Rose who is vacationing with her family at their annual summer retreat in Awago Beach. Over the course of a single summer many of the truths Rose clings to are challenged as she learns that scary movies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be (even if they are rated R), parents have feelings too and aren’t really the god like creatures we think they are when we are young, and crushes are rarely the people we think they are when we develop the crush.


This One Summer reads like a John Hughes movie transplanted to the printed page (or at least it would if John Hughes had really been interested in writing female protagonists). The Tamaki’s manage to write a coming of age story that lacks a major obstacle or dilemma for their protagonist, which means that when you get right down to it, their story is essentially about nothing. The story also eschews long expositional dialogue in favor of limited first person narration and likewise the Tamaki’s art avoids detailed drawings, instead they like to play with negative space, including only that which they feel they need in the frame. However it is because of this very sparseness that This One Summer has an amazing sense of realism, Rose never tells us a single thing more than absolutely necessary and neither does the world around her. The result is a story that clocks in at just over 300 pages, but reads quickly without ever making you feel that something is being left out or something unnecessary has been added.

If you need a break from the fist fights This One Summer is well worth the $21.99 price tag.

4.5 out of 5 Stars


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