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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

This One Summer

This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First, Second, May 2014
Reviewed from final copy

In my head, as I’ve written this post, it’s mostly been a series of exclamation points and the word “squeeeeeeee” interspersed with pictures from the book’s pages. I mean, that’s legit Printz discussion, no? With 6 starred reviews, gorgeous art, a meditative story line, it really seems like my work here is done and I’m only 57 words along in this review. But perhaps you need convincing? Or are just in the mood for a good gush? In the name of due diligence, let’s explore what’s making me go squee. We’ve got beautiful art, strong characterization and an emotional, summer-wandering plot with complicated themes adding texture and weight…I’m pretty much squeeing over the whole package of this spare-but-profound graphic novel.

The art and dialogue effectively flesh out the characters; no one seems like a type. But just as effective are the ways that the characters play together, or play off of each other to illustrate the comforts and difficulties of relationships — the ways that opposite sorts of people can find each other and love each other…and also hurt each other. Rose’s thoughtful, hesitant tiptoes toward teenage-dom are an effective contrast to Windy’s extreme exuberance. When they are getting along, their differences are refreshing and sweet. And when Rose consciously pushes Windy away in an effort to seem more grown up, Windy’s shut down is so immediate, it illustrates the exponential differences that a year or two age gap can force between friends. Alice’s relentless depression coupled with Evan’s forced cheerfulness and inflexible wish to just make everything easy and nice show an opposites-attract relationship that has gone wrong along the way. The more minor characters — Dunc, Jenny, Aunt Jody — don’t always get a lot of dialog but still manage to be compelling and/or quietly sympathetic.

The blue-white art is what has me most excited — so much characterization going on I almost remember this as a wordless story: Dunc’s friend, Matt, with his shitty t-shirts and coming out of the bathroom still buttoning up his shorts… Uncle Daniel’s flashy frisbee throwing and explosive word balloons… The chaos of the Historic Heritage Huron Village gift shop… Windy’s — well, I was going to say krunking there, but I really just mean Windy’s everything; her physicality is so beautifully expressed and so excellently contrasted with the way she just stops when Rose shuts her down… The way each girl reacts to the horror scenes (Rose’s eyes glued to the screen, Windy cowering with her hands over her eyes)… Alice’s tired and drawn face… These characters speak with far more than their words — so that even Dunc, immature, dickish Dunc, has moments where his fright and his overwhelmed-ness show up.

I think I liked this book best when it was Rose and Windy playing together, coming at the question “what does growing up really even mean?” from a million different directions. Is it feeling superior to other people? Or watching horror movies? Drinking and having sex? Playing M.A.S.H. to populate the future with pseudo-sophisticated plans? (We’ll live in an apartment — a nice one — and we’ll have a baby — just one — and also I’ll work.) Watching Rose watch the other women in the story, seeing her try to make sense of the world based on their experiences drives home just how young she is, and how perceptive. There are so many ways of seeing women, so many ways to think about what it means to be a woman, and they’re all pretty horrifying to try to understand as an adolescent. The Dunc-Jenny relationship may be slightly less layered than the Wallace family dynamics, but Rose’s fascination with the Awago teens felt just as emotionally accurate to me. Having kids-teens-moms-grandma around gave the Tamikos many chances to quietly pull maiden/mother/crone allusions without ever being too on-the-nose.

Wait. I also liked this book best when it was about Rose feeling so conflicted about growing up and being a woman and having to deal with ladyparts and all the boobs, boys, and blood that can involve. Rose’s insistence on seeing Jenny as a slut and her treatment of her mother for the majority of the novel are a totally effective portrait of both internalized misogyny and ambivalence about growing up. It could, I guess, make her an unlikeable protagonist, although she was never unlikeable to me. I mean, basically everything Rose ever sees ever just reinforces that girls grow up to shriek, have sex and then get stabbed. (Now would be the time at the Printz table where I wax rhapsodic about the inclusion of slasher movies — because that is totally the age where they started appearing at slumber parties, BUT ALSO because where else can you find that exact mix of slut shaming, summer camp, and teens taking on grown up roles? SO PERFECT.)

The lazy summer days that bleed together make up the slight plot of this graphic novel. The panels lay out simple, discrete moments that slide from one into the next; time feels fluid — like time during the summer. The things that happen feel episodic, in the way a vacation is episodic, and like a vacation, the story leaves you, the reader, feeling changed afterwards in subtle, unsayable ways.

OK, clearly I am ALL IN on this one. If I were at that Printz table, I’d come in to this conversation ready to go to the mat for this book. What do you think? Are you squeeing along with me?

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. You’ve said everything that I would say. There are still some strong contenders that I haven’t read, but this hits every single note like nothing else I’ve read this year.

    The story lets the characters be cruel, and make mistakes, and still be sympathetic people, people who are trying to flail towards something better. The metaphor of horror-movies-as-sex: you’re kind of terrified, but you don’t want other people to see you as a baby, you’re genuinely curious. It’s a safe way of performing “I’m done with being a child, I’m a grown-up now,” and yet you can be performing these trappings of adulthood with no maturity to understand the reality of it — which is true of Rose as it is of Dunc and his relationship with Jenny.

    To pull out one detail I love — in the first pages of the book, Rose travels up to Awago reading a shoujo manga (a girls’ graphic novel from Japan — think Sailor Moon). I love the affectionate little homage to shoujo manga in the artwork, I love how it evokes that exact time where you’re interested in romance but more as fantasy than as reality, how it evokes the storytelling style of shoujo where the artwork is more about communicating emotion than communicating narrative. And it signals that the rest of the book is going to be more about communicating emotion than communicating narrative — which is true, and yet the whole book is so well grounded in little details of reality, at the same time.

  2. This really fleshed out everything I loved about this graphic novel, and you hit on things that I didn’t consciously notice the first time but completely agree with in retrospect. I think this is the strongest title to come out of 2014 for teens. This is admittedly for young teens, but it’s still just as vital and relevant to the maturation process. I think the illustrations and color scheme lent so much to the narrative that it needs an additional award for that alone. Awesome!

  3. Sarah Couri says:

    Emily, YES! The shoujo comparison is so apt, so beautiful. Things do happen, but in this story it’s all about emotional reactions — all about The Feels.

    And Kristin, I think that this could go for almost any age of teen and maybe would feel even more relevant to older teens who are maybe able to look back on tween-dom with a different perspective. I can remember that point as an older teen where I was starting to understand my parents a little better as Actual Humans, and where I was totally interested in understanding my own growing up journey… that total self inolved-ness coupled with an active interest in moving beyond that, somehow, you know?

    But, yes. So much love.

    • I’m with you 100% on this one Sarah! You’ve said a lot!
      And I completely agree that this is one that initially seems, simply from the ages of the protags, to be for younger teens, but oh no… this is for teens of all teenages :-) I would even go as far to say that this title bucks the long-held assumption that teens won’t “read down”. There’s a lot of nostalgic feeling in this book (not to mention themes) that also makes it a lot more accessible to *adults* than many teen books.
      One other amazing thing about This One Summer is the ending – purposely open-ended and lacking forced resolution.

      • Sarah Couri says:

        TK! Yes! The ambiguity of the ending is so inviting of discussion and further engagement. I don’t always love an open end, but this time, for this book and these characters, it really worked for me. I just want to keep thinking about Rose (and Alice. And Windy. And Jenny. And and and!) This is a story about transition and becoming and what’s next, so I love that the end leaves you free to wonder and imagine.

  4. I actually MADE my sister (mother to a 9-year old) read this to help her realize how fast all this stuff was coming down the pike. Because I agree with TK above – it is for ALL teenages! Younger teens will read it with glee and a little naughtiness at some of the content – and think about what is to come, while it’s not in any way too young for the older ones because it is so mature and respectful in its voice.

    Now I want to go back and re-read thinking “Printz?” in my head!

  5. Karyn Silverman says:

    I was very conflicted/ambivalent about this one, but this has me rethinking some of my response and appreciating it so much more.

  6. Sarah,

    I reviewed this with equal enthusiasm for Michigan Reading Journal (but with much less skill). Your review has me finding even more to appreciate. Count me in too.

  7. I think it’s easy to be dismissive of this one because of the fact that so much happens in the illustrations. It is, in fact, something I found myself doing after the first reading. After re-reading your thoughts, Sarah, I am finding a lot more to appreciate here. The story is so nuanced and thoughtful that it makes a lot of the work both Tamakis are doing seem effortless and therefore seemingly less impressive on first read. Thank you for helping me give this a second look!

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