Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's This One Summer
Book review by Kristin Peck
What the author has delivered here is a hyped-up version of a dull teenage summer for two young girls. (Let me explain before the firing squad proceeds with my execution as I know this was honored by Caldecott.)
The story contained within these pages is, simply put, a drawn out rendition of everyday drama in a graphic novel format. Whether it is a scary movie watching, store-boy love-sick crushing, or junk food eating and drinking too much soda kind of day, it is listed in this book with accompanying illustrations and their constant renditions of crack, crunch, or snap in the little font for imagined sound effects.
Nothing eventful happens as each page goes along. Some rock collecting, swimming, and traipsing through the woods to constantly end up back at the convenience/video store and rent an age-inappropriate movie again and again.
(Yes, the parents were too dumb to realize the screaming coming from the television and computers were from horror films, so they never put a stop to it.)
It becomes clear that the reason behind the scary movies and constant visits to the store is so that the main character can feel cool and show off in front of a much older boy. (Okay, I get it. Who hasn't done that?)
Once in a while, a couple of women come banging in the store as if they are angry, which carries significance later in the book (quiet hushed tones carry secrets).
Because of this, each time they go to the shop, the young girls gain tidbits of information about things that should be completely outside of the scope of discussable information with children around.
This is where the shock value comes in:
In This One Summer, talk ranges anywhere from any form of sexual relations (completely listed by name), down to unwanted pregnancies, pornography, and immature fathers-to-be, accompanied by a lot of swearing (A LOT). The word 'slut' is also passed around quite a bit, so much so that the younger girls start using it in their everyday talk when referring to someone they do not like.
Then you turn to the main character's own family where you have a mother who doesn't want to do anything and is depressed all of the time. The father does not understand and leaves the vacation home half-way through This One Summer to return later as if everything is resolved.
There are a ton of baby books lying around, so you get the gist that it has something to do with infertility.
But it doesn't, as made evident by one page towards the end of the book
where the mother reveals that she had a miscarriage while swimming the
previous year, but doesn't want her daughter to know. Instead the
daughter is left to assume that she is not good enough as an only child
and that is why her mother is sad, and the father is left with a wife
that does not want to risk things again.
The mother comes to a life-changing conclusion that she is going to have a new perspective on things after she saves the life of another girl who is pregnant, but is ashamed to be due to bullying.
Here is my problem.
Wasn't this book supposed to be about the two pre-teen girls (who look like they are about eight)? Why is the sudden revelation coming from a background character who still never explains anything to her daughter?
Where is the daughter's revelation? The whole book was from her perspective. Shouldn't there be something more there?
This One Summer ends without anything really gained by either one of the friends. They discuss their boobs a few more times and hope that they are bigger next summer.
Perhaps that is the point. Outside problems do not always register with a child as important even though they feel their presence through the emotions from others depending upon their maturity level and sense of awareness.
Yet This One Summer is presented as a coming of age story, so where is the lesson learned?
Each family has to decide for themselves what is appropriate for their children to read, but take the suggested age range with a grain of salt. There are a lot of touchy subjects in this novel that are oftentimes best suited for the more mature audience. So even if it says that this is okay for a 12 year old, it is very dependent upon what your child already understands and what you will be willing to answer when questions arise later.
The pictures in this novel show an attempted suicide by drowning, blood from a miscarriage, and inappropriate sayings on a t-shirt worn by a store worker. The ratings that are currently shown on Amazon carry a 14% one star vote mainly due to the fact that many did not understand that Caldecott would choose a book that was so heavy in mature content and parents are not happy.
This One Summer is a book that needs to be approached with caution and understanding that it has a very direct approach when it comes to certain topics.
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