This is a brilliant novel and a worthy example of how powerfully sequential art can convey a narrative.
The story begins with the cover. In tones of blue, accented by a purple hue, it is evident that this is a tale about change. Two young girls, jumping feet first into rolling waves, are leaping into the unknown. One has her arms outstretched, body open in welcome; the other is rigid, her body closed, face omitted conveying reluctance. This One Summer, the title, occupying the vast space between the girls and their rolling future; this is the summer when everything changes.
Rose, the protagonist, is struggling through the transition from child to teenager. Her summer friend, Windy, is still clinging to that innocence. Together they contemplate boys, puberty, horror films, and adult life; conventions of a bildungsroman that we have all seen before. What sets this book apart, however, is the delicate illustrations that accentuate the movement of the tale. The story as it is written, colloquially, and the elaborative illustrations that accentuate it, are a perfect marriage.
Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations are exceptional. The reader watches a freighting movie scene from under the comfort of a thin blanket with the young girls. As Rose begins a one-sided love affair with Dunc, the older store clerk, Tamaki encapsulates his romantic dalliance with Jenny in the frame of a chewy foot candy; sweet, youthful, and hazily understood by Rose. Later, an aerial view of the beach is gently sexualized as it is drawn like the contour if a man’s body. Tamaki envisions nature as a character as much as Rose or Windy.
Character development is rich and poignant. Rose struggles to understand the adults around her: her mother dealing with a secret, personal loss; her over-compensating father; Dunc and Jenny’s badly dealt with pregnancy; even Windy’s subtle, yet profound, contemplation of adoption. The illustrations further convey the dichotomy of youth and maturity when Rose and Windy frolic through the waves of the lake on a splash page, as Dunc sits in an state of nervous agony in the following panel. But perhaps the most lovely figurative element of the book is the duality between the mother’s story of having miscarried in the lake, only to be redeemed by having saved Jenny from drowning in the same spot, and in so doing, saved her baby’s life.
This is a book that appeals to the senses.The feel of the rough paper asks for a degree of respect that a glossy page would not garner. Sounds, more than figurative onomatopoeia, drive the story. The ground crumbles beneath the feet of a man carrying a sleeping child; embarrassment is accentuated when Rose’s uncalled for name calling follows her walk home, “slut”, “slut”, “slut” crunching beneath her feet; and the soft ticking of the clock and the woods fills the empty home as Rose leaves her cabin and youth behind her at the end.
This One Summer is a story about growing up, and how adulthood and age, regardless of the physical company one keeps, is a lonesome road. This novel is a prodigious example of the beauty, intricacy and the splendour of sequential art. It is a beautiful union of words and pictures, worthy of every award for which it was nominated and has won.
This book is a quintessential example of how reading can shape our perceptions of the world, and how comics can shape and enlighten our perceptions of reading.
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke