Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 77

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Genre notes: Bildungsroman, Drama, Young Adult
320 pages
ISBN: 1626720940 (Amazon)

This One Summer is exactly the type of book we might threaten to describe as a distillation of nostalgia. It contains all the proper nostalgic elements—including among other things the recollection of the sort of coming-of-age events that drive maturation and spur consciousness expansion in the entirely non-spiritual sense of transitioning from child to near-adult. The title is even a bit of a gimme. This one summer. We’re hearing about what was. And we’re going to hear about it in a way that will prove at least somewhat consequential. There will be an end, a result, a lesson of some sort. You don’t begin a story by saying, “So, this one summer…” and then present merely a series of unrelated recollections. You’re telling a story about your past and therefore there will be a point. There has to be. You’re breathing life into your nostalgia and setting your creation free for others to love, judge, and interact with. Any story that begins with “This one summer” has to reframe history with a teleological scope—it has to indulge nostalgia.

The trick is that the blatant nostalgia-story isn’t really any different from the regular story. Every story we write, even future-fi, is a rebuilding of our pasts, our circumstances, and the stuff that made us. Gattaca drips as much nostalgia as Brighton Beach Memoirs, and The Matrix as much as Cinema Paradiso. It’s because the nature of storytelling is distillation. Whether you begin your yarn with “This one summer…” or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” you’re performing the same concatenating action, collapsing an entire world of histories into a single pericope. You’re making the big small. All to the end that you might celebrate a particular thing—a moment, a feeling, a person, a sense of being—whether that thing was present in the original happenstance or not. It doesn’t matter. You’re forging a new true thing out of your desire to make that thing known. The important thing, then, is not to recognize a story as being nostalgic (they all are) but to look for what makes this story, the one you’re reading right now, unique.

This One Summer contains masterful writing and masterful illustration certainly, but what does it convey? If, as I suspect, all stories are nostalgic, then what makes this particular story unique? If this is not to be read as some basking in the golden glow of our long-forgotten and longer-remembered youths, then what are the Tamakis circling here? Why do they wish to remind us of what happened this one summer?

While their answer might be (and probably would be) far different from my own, I think it essential to recognize This One Summer as an exploration of family, especially through the several women of varying ages who fill the story’s corners. At the center, of course, is Rose—a woman at the cusp, so to speak, of womanhood. She’s about thirteen and is that kind of bundled nerves, ideas, and curiosities that seem to almost universally mark the early teenage experience. She’s ignorant of a lot and wonders about sex, feeling some of the stomach-churning pull that physical attraction can hold for the uninitiated. Simultaneously, she’s protected by that kind of uncompassionate sociopathy that allows one human to hold no empathy for the concerns of others. When a local girl becomes accidentally pregnant by her local boyfriend who does his level best to abandon her via passive aggression, Rose cannot sympathize. The girl, to Rose, is simply a “slut”—and whatever that actually means, she is therefore unworthy of compassion. Rose’s mother is plagued by some acute tragedy, driven into depression and a colourless fatigue. And Rose’s reaction is to feel affronted and personally embittered. And yet there is a hope for Rose because by This One Summer's insistence in portraying women at all ages, we are driven to see that Rose is on a path rather than a fixed point. This One Summer is not her story. It is, instead, one of her stories. It is the smallest part of her story. It’s simply something that happened this one summer when she was not yet an adult and not quite any longer a kid.

[Browse archive of recommendations to date]

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad

I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

About the Site

Support me by buying my art on Etsy

Review copy submission may be facilitated via the Contact page.

Browse Reviews By

Other Features



Comics by Seth T. Hahne

Ghost Towns, a comic about names and endings by Seth T. Hahne

Monkess The Homunculus, a graphic novel for children by Seth T. Hahne

Nostalgia, an autobio comic about fear by Seth T. Hahne

Golden Rules: an 18-page comic by Seth T. Hahne

A Rainy Day Love Song: a Valentines comic by Seth T. Hahne

Free Horizon, a sci-fi comic by Austin Wilson and drawn by Seth T. Hahne