Rose’s family has been going to Awago Beach every summer for almost as long as she can remember. It is her perfect summer refuge, filled with long, languid days on the beach, and nights spent gathered around the campfire laughing and telling stories. In the cottage next door lives Rose’s summer-time best friend Windy and her mother Evelyn. But this year, something just isn’t right at Awago Beach. Rose’s parents are fighting, her mom seems depressed, and Rose and Windy find themselves at odds over Rose’s obsession with Duncan, the older boy who works at the local convenience store. Rose’s parents are too caught up in their own problems to be there for the daughter the way they should be, and Rose’s anger and confusion slowly poison the summer as she lashes out at those around her.
The biggest challenge to immersion in the world the Tamaki cousins have created is putting up with Rose, who is a decidedly unlikeable protagonist. However, Rose’s behaviour finds a perfect counterpoint in Windy, and it is the fraught dynamic between the two girls that drives This One Summer. Rose is a little older than Windy, and considers herself more sophisticated. She is sometimes bored with Windy’s childish antics, and she thinks nothing of telling her younger, chubbier friend that her thighs look fat, or than she shouldn’t drink so much soda. But if Windy is less mature than Rose, she is also the one with her heart in the right place, and she often sees the truth of a situation when Rose cannot. As much as Rose longs to leave childhood behind, she needs Windy to keep her honest. The two girls hover on the brink of womanhood, each about to cross over in her own way, even as the older female characters find themselves coping with problems the two girls are not yet fully capable of understanding.
Jillian Tamaki’s gorgeous blue-toned illustrations are the stand-out in this volume, and her work has been recognized with both a Caldecott Honor and the Governor General’s Award for illustration. Tamaki beautifully renders the Northern Ontario landscape, and other tiny bits of Canadiana, such as a University of Toronto bumper sticker, and Timmies coffee in the cup holders, bringing the setting vividly to life. Her lines are extremely expressive, and she has a talent for conveying a great deal through the body language of the characters. Although originally drawn in black and white, the blue-saturation adds an incredible mood and atmosphere to the story. What should be a beautiful summer is imbued with a sense of foreboding, and impending loss of innocence as Rose’s mother’s depression seems to seep over everything.
Although Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations have garnered much of the praise and attention devoted to This One Summer, it is also a Printz Honor book, an accolade which is awarded to YA works for their literary merit. The story deals honestly with slut-shaming and fat-shaming, in a way that interrogates how young girls end up picking up misogynistic ideas and behaviours from the culture around them. Mariko Tamaki isn’t one to spell out the resolution clearly, and This One Summer moves with the rhythms of real life rather than in the neat arcs we often take for granted in our fiction. We never know exactly how Jenny ended up in the lake, or what she decides to do after she wakes up in the hospital. And there is only the most subtle hint that Rose has come around to see the problems with her attitude, when she makes up with Windy, who calls her out on her shit. The admission is a subtle one, but gives a certain amount of hope for Rose’s character going forward. However, those who dislike ambiguous endings may still find themselves unimpressed with the story arc of This One Summer.
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