May 25, 2014

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Groundwood Books
320 pp.
Ages 14+
May 2014

The anticipation of summer holidays can be overwhelming, especially if you're looking forward to another great summer at a Muskoka cottage where your family has gone for years.  Beaches, water, sunshine, friends, freedom, videos, board games, and no school.  Another wonderful summer at the cottage.  Except that things never stay the same: not people, not places, not experiences.

Superficially everything seems to be the same. The Wallace family is heading to the cottage at Awago Beach where everything seems familiar.  Young teen Rose meets up with her younger friend, Windy, and her mother Evelyn there. They ride their bikes.  They go to the beach and swim. They visit Brewster's, the only convenience store at Awago, for candy, videos and junk food.  They watch videos at night, and play board games.  It's a time for sleeping in and no worries.  Even Rose's parent have their routines: Dad enjoying a beer, making jokes and doing the BBQ thing, while Mom organizes, visits with Evelyn and reads and writes. But there's an undercurrent of unease.

Though only a year and a half different in their ages, best friends Rose and Windy are no longer always in sync in their thinking.  Rose seems to have gone through puberty and is seeing beyond the silliness of their summer antics.  She's crushing on Duncan, the teen working at Brewster's, and eavesdropping on the local teens and her own parents, trying to understand all she hears and sees.  Windy, on the other hand, is always joking around (she calls Duncan "the Dud"), being loud and hyper and trying out new words that seem to get a reaction (like slut and sexy ta-tas).  She notices Rose's distraction and tries to go along with her, realizing Rose knows a lot more that her and can share about things Windy knows nothing.

Two particular dramas seem to be affecting Rose: the friction between her parents, and the relationship between Duncan and his girlfriend Jenny.  Surprisingly, they both involve babies.  Although Rose doesn't really share what she's thinking about either situation, Windy seems to interpret her reactions, often infuriating Rose.  Puberty can be a confusing time, with a perceived loss of youthful innocence and unrestraint and being expected to deal with more mature issues.  And Rose has a foot in both worlds: the one of her fun, curious younger self and the one of conflict, relationships and judgment.

Everyone must remember a summer of awkwardness, in the pre- or early- teen years.  Most of us would choose not to relive it.  But Mariko Tamaki's text suggests that it's a rite of passage for many young people, whether it be a cottage experience–something more common in parts of Canada than others–or a summer in the city.  Friendships are reconfigured to accommodate new feelings and thinking, and with new knowledge, even incomplete, come more questions and insecurities about that knowledge.  The voices that Mariko Tamaki gives Rose and Windy reflect their balancing between childhood and adolescences, just as the language of the Awago teens, heavily peppered with profanity, reflect their perceived invincibility and rebelliousness.  Enhancing Mariko Tamaki's text is the artwork of her cousin, Jillian Tamaki, whose first work together was their highly-acclaimed graphic novel, Skim (Groundwood, 2008).  Her characters reflect their natures so well. Windy is the dark-haired, freckled girl with an extra pound or two of baby fat, though thankfully not affecting her exuberance for life (yet).  On the other hand, Rose is the light-haired, slender girl who doesn't smile as easily and carries her body more stiffly, as if still getting used to it. Moreover, choosing to use the dark blue-purple of indigo for the cover of This One Summer and midnight blue for the illustrations within is an ingenious selection by Jillian Tamaki, reflecting the appearance of brightness on the surface but a darkness within. 

This One Summer is the summer coming-of-age story with which many teens will be familiar and with which many parents would hope their pre-teen girls won't have to experience, at least for a while. 

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