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Pickle Me This

May 19, 2014

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

this-one-summerIt’s a toss-up, the question of my favourite line from This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. It’s either, “That’s the problem with being adopted. I have no idea how big my boobs are going to be.” or, “You can’t get herpes from a flip-flop.” And it’s remarkable that the lines stand out in a graphic novel, a books whose visuals are so overwhelming. A book whose graphics’ simple blue only emphasizes the detail of the drawings, the clutter in the corners. There are some graphic novels you are breeze through in one sitting, but this isn’t one of them. The illustrations are a marvellous mix of old-school comic style, complete with text to imply sound and movement, and images inspired by scientific drawings of birds, plants and stars. And then full-page spreads with surprising perspectives and you could read this book over and over and discover something new each time.

Summer is fitting for comics, the season allowing plenty of time for pleasure reading, summer cottages perhaps having stacks of old comics on hand. And also for the way that summer is so fleeting–just a few panels in the book of a year. So much of life goes on outside it, and yet these summer memories, these ephemeral experiences of jumping off docks and sitting in sand, are what our minds return to over and over again. Summer brings us to the same old places but we’re a different person each time that we come, as Rose is beginning to discover in the Tamaki cousins’ tale.

And they get the details just right–cottage-country traffic, the winding roads and the posts mounted with family names pointing in their cottages’ directions. When Rose’s family arrives, she goes to find her friend Windy, her cottage friend since age 5. They visit the general store to buy candy, ride their bikes, lounge on the beach, wonder about the local kids and their teenage dramas, contemplate the summer romances they’re still too young for, get bored, get into trouble, wait out the rain.

Outside this chronology of hours, how summer days can stretch so long, there is much more happening, so much that cannot be articulated, which is why this story is such a great fit for a graphic novel. Rose’s parents’ relationship has fractured, her mother seems to be suffering from depression, their family going through their familiar routines but not meaning much of it. The reader also infers that in subsequent summers the differences in Rose and Windy’s ages will start to matter more, that the friends will grow apart, which will be heartbreaking and complicated. But that is a summer still to come.

In the meantime, the girls are on a threshold, having not put away childish things, but beginning to glimpse an adult world before them whose puzzles they just can’t decipher. They still think the puzzles are decipherable, however, so they’re still young yet, looking on in fascination and fear at the possibilities before them, feelings best expressed in an awe-filled silence. And to fill that silence in the meantime, they talk, Mariko Tamaki’s dialogue ringing true. Riding bikes, slouched on porches and bobbing in inner-tubes, doing and talking about everything, and nothing at all.

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