Tag: Mariko Tamaki

Saving Montgomery Sole

Cover image for Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki by  Mariko Tamaki

ISBN 978-1-62672-271-2

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“I am standing in a hailstorm, and I’m the only one who can see it’s raining.”

Montgomery Sole—better known to her friends and family as Monty—is a sixteen year old Canadian girl living in Aunty, California with her moms, and her sister, Tesla. Her younger sister is athletic and outgoing, fitting easily into the California culture, but Monty sticks out like a sore thumb. Moreover, she is proud of her difference, and disdainful of the people who surround her, trying so hard to conform. But she has gathered her own small coterie of misfits around her, including her best friend Thomas, who is gay, and Naoki, a slightly spacey fellow Canadian in America. Together, they form the Mystery Club, sharing a fascination with mysterious and unexplained phenomena. When a homophobic internet evangelist moves to Aunty, and begins preaching about saving the American family, Monty’s life at Jefferson High goes from difficult to intolerable. But when Monty orders the Eye of Know from a strange website for the next Mystery Club experiment, things get even more complicated as her tendency to lose her temper begins to have inexplicable consequences.

Monty is a realistic character, but one who is difficult to coexist with in the first person narration. She is thin-skinned and very focused on how she thinks others perceive or judge her, possibly because she is so judgemental herself. Whereas Momma Jo and Mama Kate, and Thomas have all found ways to shrug off the homophobia they encounter, Monty cannot seem to help but take it personally. Her already raw nerves are pressed beyond the breaking point by the arrival of the Reverend White and his son, Kenneth. When she finally reaches her tipping point, she lashes out not only at those who have harmed her, but also at her family and friends, angry that they are not as infuriated by the injustice as she is. When not dominated by all this anger and resentment, her narration sometimes has an “and then” quality as she trudges reluctantly through her days at Jefferson High.

One of Monty’s more fraught relationships is with her younger sister, Tesla. Although she seems to fit in better than Monty, she has her own struggles. Tesla is coping in part by becoming curious about prayer and religion, which surrounds her in Aunty. Everyone on her highly competitive soccer team prays to win, and Tesla worries that she may be sabotaging the team because she is the only one not praying. This curiosity makes Monty furious, because religiously motivated homophobia has harmed their family, and Mama Kate’s parents are always trying to coerce her with their fundamentalist beliefs. But Tesla is young enough to not quite understand all of this. Meanwhile, Monty seems unable to see that her own fascination with supernatural phenomena comes from a similar place, though she has latched onto something that has never directly harmed her. Rather, their shared interest has formed the Mystery Club into a supportive community of misfits.

In an otherwise realistic novel, the mysterious Eye of Know becomes a device of introspection as much as magic. Despite many experiments, the Mystery Club has never been able to replicate a supernatural phenomenon, and at first the Eye of Know seems no different. But then some bad things happen to people who are picking on Monty when she loses her temper, and she begins to wonder if the Eye might just be giving her the power to fight back. She seems to want to believe, perhaps because it gives her feeling of control just when things seem to be slipping away from her. But when Thomas and Naoki try to counter-balance her darker tendencies, she pushes them away.

It eventually becomes clear that Tamaki is subtly leaning towards a cautionary tale. Monty’s anger is damaging her relationships with her friends and family, and her judgemental attitude is toxic, harming her as much as those around her. Through the character of Tiffany, the local frozen yogurt girl, Monty catches a glimpse of what her life might be like in a decade. At first that doesn’t seem so bad, but even as Monty’s life seems to be unraveling, it becomes clear that Tiffany isn’t exactly living the dream either. The ending brings the book together well, reflecting on family, religion, and social status, but a lot of readers will never make it that far.

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Cover image for This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki You might also like This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

This One Summer

Cover image for This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamakiby Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

ISBN 978-1-62672-094-7

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.

Page from This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian TamakiJillian 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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