A graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
July 23, 2015
by Fiorella Morzi
When I was younger, I was interested in hanging on to my pre-teen self—I felt like I was still a kid and could get away with things that grown-up girls couldn’t. I also wanted to explore what lay ahead for me in high school.
It was a weird place to be, sitting on your couch wondering if and how Britney Spears’ “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” was relevant to your fast-moving, twelve-year-old life. This was 2003-ish.
At this age, I had a general sense that acting on my curiosities was probably a good thing for me. But as I entered puberty and became a girl with boobs and hairy legs, I was confronted with specific ideas about where that curiosity needed to be directed. By then, I wasn’t really encouraged to self-define, and that’s when I learned to miss the freedom I had had as a seventh-grader with little parental supervision, when I had not yet turned gendered expectations inward and let them deeply influence my self-understanding.
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s stunning teen graphic novel This One Summer captures a moment in two girls’ lives where transition and exploration intersect as they shift their way into teenagehood, and all the while the patriarchy is there, anchoring its presence. It is layered with difficult and joyous moments that ultimately reflect the turbulence of coming of age as a girl, and the negotiations we make, both personal and social, blossoming.
The book centers on the experiences of Rose and Windy who are spending a summer together at Awago Beach with their families. I was immediately drawn to the colour scheme of the novel in all of its blue-and-white glory, which ultimately deepened my reading experience; each illustrated page is a tribute to the beachside backdrop of their tense summer.
Touching on issues that girls often encounter first- or secondhand (slut-shaming, for example), there is room in the book to tease out emotional moments in particular contexts; much like the blues that highlight and cool on the page, the reading experience feels fluid. Though the subject matter includes things like teenage pregnancy and miscarriage, the way the Tamakis examine these subjects feels playful and serious at the same time.
I say playful because the book feels thoughtful and exploratory; as Rose and Windy confront the uncomfortable, they learn things about themselves and each other in the process.
While reading, I was aware that there was an ordinariness to everything—the gravel road linking the cottages, the awkwardness of crushing on an older dude, sneakily renting adult horror movies because you’re too young to actually rent them.
And yet, it’s the kind of summer that feels both ordinary and extraordinary. In fact, the story’s reluctance to be one thing or the other is part of its charm and value. The everyday is prioritized in a way that privileges an experience of girlhood, and that is important.
I resonated with Windy, the younger of the girls, because she seemed to counter Rose’s internalized sexism. There’s a crucial scene in the book where Windy actually calls Rose out on something she said, noticeably upset, and identifies it as sexist.
Rose’s response—to defensively lash out at Windy, even calling her “mom”— helps the reader to see the ways that patriarchal attitudes in the book are applied or resisted, even named.
From beginning to end, the reading experience felt like bearing witness to a fleeting moment in a girl’s life, painted in a way that made the characters and situations poignant and believable. I might be projecting my own bias too, because I look back to 2003 and think of how slippery that time in my life was: a time characterized by negotiation. The book curiously has me re-asking, now in my mid-twenties, “Can I listen to my feelings?”
Put differently, the Tamakis have created a work of art that comes across as a glimpse or snapshot of a continuously evolving story that plays out over many more summers.
Fiorella Morzi recently graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a degree in social sciences and now manages circulation for Shameless magazine. She is an adult literacy tutor at West Neighbourhood House and regularly writes for Fat Girl Food Squad. She loves borrowing books. Find her on Twitter @ellafior.