“This One Summer” review: singing the song of purple summer

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. First Second: 2014.

This One Summer book coverHello, blog! I miss you a lot. *hugs* Let’s start catching up on reviews, shall we? I read This One Summer this summer because I had heard wonderful things about out it, and a YA graphic novel was quick enough to fit in among all of the school reading I’m doing. Altogether, the book did not live up to the lofty expectations I set for it, but it was still a refreshing summer read.

This One Summer is the story of two friends who hang out every summer in a small lake town in Canada where their families have cabins. The girls, Rose and Windy, enjoy swimming and playing on the beach, walking around town, and renting scary movies from the local general store to watch in the cabin when their parents aren’t around. They are just on the verge of adolescence, and this particular summer (depending on how you interpret the text) is most likely their final one as kids.

Throughout the book, Windy and Rose discuss topics related to their maturation (i.e. boobs!) and also begin to become more aware of the social-emotional goings-on of the adults in their lives, from Roses’ mother’s depression, to the unwanted pregnancy of a young girl (teenage or college-age, possibly) who lives in town and whose baby daddy works at the general store. There really isn’t much of a plot beyond their observations and conversations, and the ending is not conclusive. All-in-all this book has a very open, soft structure, quite nostalgic and dream-like. So if you like plot-based reads and tied-up endings, this might not be your glass of lemonade.

However, it is beautifully done. The artwork is phenomenal and does a magnificent job of conveying the nostalgia of childhood summers and the bitter-sweetness of growing up. At some points I could almost smell the campfires and hear the crack of sticks underfoot, the imagery was so wonderful. I also appreciated reading a book set in Canada and the inclusion of a native character. It actually wasn’t until the girls’ visit to a Huron village that, after some Googling, I realized the book is set in Canada.

The book has been on many a banned/challenged list due to its use of profanity and mature themes in a YA graphic novel, but that is hardly a surprise. I would actually recommend this even to a mature middle grade reader since the girls are a bit younger than average YA protagonists. They may not get the sense of nostalgia reading it as I did, but that’s ok! The lovely thing about this book is that all ages will find something in it – younger readers may connect with the girls’ bewilderment at their observations of the adults, and adult readers will remember what it was like to realize you weren’t a kid anymore.

I can’t really put my finger on why I didn’t give this book 5 stars, but considering all of the awards and praise the book had received, it fell short for me. I guess I was expecting…more? I don’t know what. Maybe I expected it to be more provocative? Or have a more defined plot? Probably a bit of both. It was a classic example of setting yourself up for disappointment from seeing all the shiny awards and high praise. Originally 3 stars on Goodreads, I’m upping it to 4 – writing this review made me appreciate the book more!

4 stars

P.S. Also I just realized that the book is entirely illustrated in shades of purple – well, no, I didn’t just realize that – but I realized that “The Song of Purple Summer” from the musical “Spring Awakening” is all about loss of innocence and growing up and that is what this book is all about and I’m kindof now putting the pieces of my BLOWN MIND back together! Symbolism!

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