Let’s begin by comparing experiences. Just over a decade ago, I read Craig Thompson’s Blankets for the first time and fell in love with the book a little bit. It was one of those formative graphic novel reading experiences – an experience you probably should have left behind you when you’re in your thirties but there you go. Blankets entered the pantheon. It’s one of those books I re-read fairly regularly, that I’m glad sit upon my shelves and it’s one of those graphic novels that serves as a benchmark for other similar graphic novels. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki is one such graphic novel. It warrants comparison with Blankets not just because each book concerns a rite of passage, or because each book has a similar look, or because each book is full of life and humour and richly observed detail but because here is another book that if we’re not careful we could fall in love with. If you had a similar experience with reading Blankets, then you should make a beeline for This One Summer.
Our main focus is Rose, a young teenage girl (who could be a Scout or a Harriet the Spy), travelling with her parents to their holiday home in Awago Beach, a place she has been back to time and again over the years. Her dad is a bit of a joker and her mum is serious and intent. A full page artwork towards the start of book recalls the opening of the Miyazaki classic, Spirited Away (see right). Whether the nod is intentional or not, the image serves to prepare us for the possibility that the summer in question might be transformative, might involve her losing her parents or at the very least losing the regularity of her trips to Awago Beach. Reunited with her summer compadre, Windy, a girl who is (perhaps crucially) a year younger than Rose and still in the full flush of tomboyhood, the days stretch themselves out in a seemingly endless parade of trips to the beach, BBQs and horror movies (the two girls surreptitiously work their way through as many horror films as they can get their hands on) – but it is the local video store and in particular the attraction of the older guy behind the counter that starts to snag Rose’s imagination.
Of course, if This One Summer was just the story of two girls and what they got up to during the course of one pivotal summer, it might not be as damn enthralling as it is. One of its charms is the way it allows competing narratives to unfold, at their own pace, without overwhelming the gentle pace. We have the story of Rose’s parent’s marriage, suffering as the result of a miscarriage, we have the story of the video store guy and his buddies and their girlfriends, a flippant, vulgar, adolescent world also knocked on its ass as a result of a pregnancy. All these adults around Rose, you can’t help but think, and not one of them has any answers to offer her. Even here, though, simply recounting the detail robs the book of its many pleasures and surprises. Around ever corner, over every page, there are images, details, lines of dialogue, observations, oblique, impressionist imagery – a whole score of things, basically – to stop you in your tracks. For example, the double spread of Windy dancing around the room while Roses sits at the table nodding her head (the double page filled with Windys) giving way to pages of banter (two teenage girls going at it, words like swarms of bees) and then beautiful pages of wordless ocean that itself gives way to the sky over the girls’ heads. It would be the easiest ting in the world to go through the book picking examples at random that illustrates how interesting and intelligent the book is.
Obviously there will be those who think graphic novels about teenage girls should only be read by teenage girls (and my own teenage girl couldn’t wait to get her hands on the book and loved it when did) – but this is the kind of book that exists in the world of Stand By Me and Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. By which we mean to say this is a book that deals with both specifics and universals and should be justly prized as a result.
Any Cop?: The standout graphic novel of 2014 for us so far.