Title: This One Summer
Author: Mariko Tamaki
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Pages: 318 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2014.
Awards: Caldecott Honor (2015), Michael L. Printz Award Nominee (2015), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominee for Best Graphic Album-New (2015)
When I first came to Awago I was scared to swim in the lake. Then my mom taught me how to open my eyes under the water.
I thought it was something special. Like a power.
Until I told Windy and realized like, everyone can do it if they try. (111)
Rose and her family have gone to Awago Beach for the summer ever since she can remember. It’s there she meets up with Windy, whose family also annually rents a summer cottage. The entertainment of choice for the two girls is secretly watching scary movies they rent from the small store. It’s there that they also eavesdrop on the small town gossip, which seems like it’s all anyone can talk about. Rose’s family has their own drama and trauma that they are trying to overcome, but it seems like this summer it’s more difficult than ever to avoid their real life.
This book has definitely made waves, especially since the Media Awards were announced in February. I’ve been struggling with accepting the honorees for the Caldecott Award since they were announced, because they broke the mold so thoroughly this year. The Invention of Hugo Cabret did the same thing when it won the award for 2008, but it seems like librarians were more willing to accept it into their fold because it still was an acceptable acquisition for an elementary school and/or the children’s department. It still met our definition of a children’s book. And while the Caldecott Award does specify that books intended for an audience of up to and including age 14 are to be considered, they are traditionally acceptable reading material for most age levels, and the ability to read something of that length was the only barrier. Now we have a piece of work dealing with sensitive, mature themes, such as teenage pregnancy — and all the various related topics like diseases, contraception, and conception — underage drinking and language. Not really something you would unquestionably hand to a second grader, I don’t care how open-minded of a librarian or how stringently you adhere to the mantra that we do not act in loco parentis.
Several librarians have also raised the concern that graphic novels present a unique question of where the natural separation is between pictures and text, especially since graphic novels blur those lines so frequently. Are speech bubbles considered part of the graphics? Are textual panels or narrative text considered part of the graphics? Are sound effects (picture the BAM and WHACK from early comics) part of the graphics, especially when used in place of an alternative pictorial representation, or part of the text?
There’s a very good reason for asking these questions, which I’m sure the Caldecott committee spent some time considering in their deliberations. The choice of the monochromatic blue/purple conveys the moody atmosphere, but the dialogue and expository text emphasizes the unease and awkwardness that the long-time friendship is suffering. Initially I didn’t care for the graphic novel, probably for this very reason, as the introspective nature of the narrative forces readers to be “in the mood” for that type of thing. It’s a very different story than say Roller Girl (previously reviewed) and therefore recommended for an audience that would appreciate that type of story. It’s a moody portrayal of a young girl’s loss of innocence, as Rose grapples with some very heavy themes. I chose the quote at the top because this is literally the summer where she opens her eyes. There is a noticeable gap between Windy and Rose from the very beginning that continues to widen, and readers understand and accept that, possibly before either of the girls, although I think Rose is coming to that same conclusion.
While it has merits, I’m not sure if it, in my opinion, fully deserves the notoriety that the Caldecott committee has now infamously and infinitely granted it as the first graphic novel to be recognized by that award. It’s was also recognized by the Printz Committee, designating excellence in Young Adult Literature, which is an audience that I think is better able to engage and appreciate the graphic novel’s subtleties. I may be late to the initial commentary and debate, but this is one discussion that I’m sure will go on for some time, and rightfully so.