Open Sesame: Craft & Storytelling Urge Us to Jump Into This Graphic Novel

This One Summer: A New Graphic Novel For Young Adults

Rose has returned to the summer cottage at Awago Beach, the special get-a-way her family takes every year. Her summer friend Windy is at the beach too. Rose’s memories of the cottage are happy, treasured times, but this summer feels different. Rose wants to watch horror movies instead of cartoons, she’s crushing on the teenage boy at the general store, and some of Windy’s childish habits are starting to get on her nerves. Plus her parents’ fighting is making their special retreat full of tension and sorrow.

This One Summer, the new graphic novel by cousins Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, serves up an emotionally drawn story about change, friendship, and family. From the onset, readers are invited to jump right in, like the cover illustration of the two girls jumping into the water. And what readers may notice first is the color. Shades of blue, ranging from light gray to dark purple, are reminiscent of vintage manga and evoke a feeling of nostalgia. The blue is soft, which makes it easy to sink into the story’s experience, but it’s also somber and serious, which deepens the story’s emotional tug.

Graphic artist Jillian Tamaki has created a beautiful setting. The small, wooded town of Awago Beach comes to life frame by frame, with all the quintessential elements of summer vacation: the heat, swimming at the beach, biking, exploring, lazy days of movie watching, long nights of star gazing, and even the tiny general store that sells marshmallows and rents videos. The pictures breathe life into the storyline, give dimension to the whole cast of characters, and express emotion through spot-on perspective and body language. Tamaki’s characters are all distinct, especially the girls – Rose is long and blond, reserved and broody, observant and shy, while Windy, like her name suggests, bounces around the page, often hyped up on sugar, chatty and kinetic, dark-haired, smaller and rounder. Gorgeous two-page spreads slow down the pace at crucial points, and help with smooth transitions from scene to scene. The illustrations work so naturally with the narrative that it is hard to believe they were done by two different people.

The tenderly wrought storyline by author, Mariko Tamaki, shows a girl on the verge of adolescence. Rose’s budding sexuality placed against a local teenage drama, involving a possible pregnancy, brings out awkward and confusing feelings of desire and loyalty. Additionally the unfolding of her own family’s drama – Rose’s mom is withdrawn and sullen, and refuses to go in the water, Rose’s parents are fighting about something Rose doesn’t completely understand, her dad leaving for a few days to get space – and Rose is left with a lot to sift through.  She envisions her future through the lens of those around her, peering into a world that is markedly more mature and complicated than her own girlhood. And also, maybe, more exciting. Luckily she has Windy, who though younger than Rose, seems to have a grounded and more humorous perspective. Windy’s cheerful, sensible personality helps Rose stay anchored through the choppy waters of this one summer. The story closes with a dramatic rescue on the beach, an event that brings Rose some clarity to her mixed-up feelings and reveals the true reason behind her mother’s sorrow.

A beautiful and sensitive novel, emotionally wrought and rendered in stunning graphics, This One Summer is a top pick for YA* readers.
*Contains mature content and language.

  • This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Published by First Second, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-59643-774-6



Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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