This One Summer is a moody, atmospheric, and beautifully illustrated slice of life story following a tween girl and her childhood best friend. Both girls meet up every year at the lake but this year is different – minor events have changed the situation for many of the characters. What makes the book remarkable is the very grounded, realistic, and character driven story and art. Both complement each other perfectly. But this is also a book where our main character is at the epicenter of events and yet none touch her directly. She watches from the sidelines as subtle events unfold around her.
Rose and Windy’s mothers are good friends and each year their families meet up at the lakeside cabins for Summer. This year looks to be like the rest – days at the beach, exploring the local neighborhood, and movies at home in the cabin. But Rose becomes intrigued by the local shop boy, Windy doesn’t understand Rose’s new maturity, and Rose’s mother is very unhappy and withdrawn for unknown reasons. Conflicts about conceiving children – both wanted and unwanted – will cause unhappiness and touch everyone This One Summer.
Part of my enjoyment of the book stemmed from having gown up in upstate New York and experiencing this exact type of Summer – driving to one of the Great Lakes and spending two weeks with the family. Everything in the book was pitch perfect and brought back so many memories. It was genuine – from the crowded little local store to the kids hanging out in the forest or beaches after dark: a town catering to the tourists but not necessarily making any great living from them.
The art, like the writing, was detailed in all the right places. This is not a book that was rushed or hurried – the languid pace of Summer is given time to organically evolve; the mundane joy of simple things like Twizzlers contrasted with the typical ‘visit a tourist trap’ day trip. Even having a grandparent who snores loudly and the tiny but sparsely decorated rooms loosely littered with the seashell treasures collected over the season. All the scenes were needed to tell the big picture of Rose’s Summer.
The story arc doesn’t have a moral, hidden POV, or Rose learning a lesson. It isn’t about growth of character. It’s a straight slice of life meditation, the foolishness of youth with the heartache of middle age. It’s an observation rather than a lesson. I think some readers may be frustrated by that but really, how often did we really understand and learn from the lessons we were being taught by life when we were tweens? That always came later, if at all.
What I really appreciated about the book is that Rose and Windy are very average tweens. Rose may have the first stirrings of a crush but both are still very immature, underdeveloped physically, and a stark contrast to the older teens they encounter. Both girls keep their innocence, though, which is far more realistic to me.
This One Summer is a piece that could have been written in any era – from the 1950s to my 1970s childhood to the current age now. There really is nothing comic about it and yet the illustrations are so clean and organic to the story, the expressions so distinct, the characters so unique, that I could not imagine the story told without the graphic format. The author and illustrator really did capture the feel of the tween.
Reviewed from an ARC.