A 2015 Caldecott Honor winner, This One Summer follows the perspective of Rose during a summer vacation at Awago Beach in Canada. Paired with her goofy friend Windy, the two of them experience life in very typical ways with very atypical situations. What struck me the most about this graphic novel was its ability to make you emotionally uncomfortable through the observations of our protagonists. I have not felt this emotionally engaged in a graphic novel… possibly ever.
This One Summer is not a standard graphic novel. We just follow Rose from her arrival at the beginning of the Summer in Awago Beach to the end of the summer. She hangs out with her friend Windy. She plays at the beach. She spends time with her family and Windy’s family. Honestly, it’s a very average Summer experience. But what makes this experience extraordinary is that this is a key summer for both Rose and Windy– this is the summer where they begin to transition from girlhood to womanhood.
The things that Windy and Rose did in previous summers don’t mean the same things they used to. This isn’t a sudden change, and it happens at different times for both girls. They begin to watch the women around them, how these women interact with the world, and how they are perceived. These observations then reflect in how Rose and Windy begin to leave their childhood. Instead of being told, or experienced directly, we get to observe these actions. This makes the uncomfortable moments frequent, but very powerful. I found myself cringing at their interpretations of the world and their reactions.Yet, I never questioned the experiences Rose and Windy were having or their reactions to the world around them.
The events happening over the course of this summer are varied. Bittersweet and powerful, the other women involved in life on Awago Beach are struggling with their own issues. While Rose and Windy are worrying about their developing bodies and being cool, the other women are discovering lesbian friends, struggling with unwanted pregnancies, depression, and miscarriages. A seemingly innocent summer-long trip to the beach is actually the crux of changes in many relationships and a definitive point for many people’s futures.
Almost everything in this story is understated, which is perfect. A sleepy summer vacation shouldn’t be full of action and drama. And in this case, the drama is gentle. The art in this book is beautiful and inked in only a dark lavender-blue color. Through this beautiful art we observe much of the summer. Though this art and observation the reader gets to interpret and misunderstand things, just like Rose and Windy. It really keys perfectly into the beginning of puberty.
Honestly, this graphic novel left me a bit raw. There were so many negative emotions fluttering about, as well as so many uncomfortable moments, that feel it will be a long time before I re-read this. That said, I certainly plan on revisiting it someday. This simple story is strangely powerful and left a mark with me. I know for a fact I did not get everything out of this book I needed or wanted to. I look forward to that day.
What do you think?
- Do you read graphic novels? Why or why not?
- The One Summer often made me uncomfortable, but it was powerful in that way. Do you read books that make you uncomfortable? What do you like or dislike about those books?
- All the art is done in shades of indigo. Why do you think Tamaki chose that color scheme? Do you like it?