Inspired by the summer season, I would like to discuss the profound YA graphic novel This One Summer, written by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. We are introduced to Rose Wallace and her family as they arrive to Awago Beach for a family vacation. Every year they come to their cottage on the beach and spend a few days enjoying the small town life, going to the beach every night, counting star, eating gummy feet, etc.
[WARNING: I spoil everything. So if you plan on reading this book, I highly suggest you turn back now, spend the next two to three hours reading This One Summer, and then come back to read the rest of this. KThnxBai]
This is a summer for discovery – discovering the lifestyle of the people in Awago (the teenagers in particular), an almost unhealthy love for classic horror movies, and an unspoken chasm between Rose’s mother Alice and her family. Windy, Rose’s summer cottage friends, arrives to Awago this summer with an interest in hip hop dancing and a fascination with her potential to grow large breasts. Rose witnesses a teenage couple, Dunc and Jenny, show affection towards each other and, for assumably the first time, thinks about sex. As the days go by, Rose and Windy trek across new territory, both in Awago and in their lives.
This One Summer shows the constant dynamic changes of life and the discovery of not knowing everything about these changes. Rose recalls moments of her childhood when times were different, when her and her father would collect rocks on the beach. Her mother Alice explains how Rose used to be the size of these small rocks she would collect and remarks how she quickly grew into the daughter she loved so much. She doesn’t quite understand at the time, but perhaps she will when she’s older. Now Rose doesn’t have much interest in rocks. She’s more interested in what is happening over by Brewster’s and “spying” on the teenagers. These adolescent years are when people experience the most change (after probably the stages from infancy to toddlerhood) on a psychological/emotional level. We learn to gripe with more complex feelings and trying to make sense of the world we live in with what little knowledge we have.
At the beginning of the summer, Rose experiences feelings for the convenience store clerk Dunc. It doesn’t grow into more than a schoolgirl crush, but Rose’s exposure to the teens of Awago have quite the influence on her. Right off the bat, in the beginning of the book, Rose and Windy begin to casually use the word “slut” in reference to the girls in the area. They become fascinated with sex and whether or not certain teens “did it”.
Rose begins to judge all of the older teenage girls in Awago, assuming they are all “sluts”, especially Jenny, Dunc girlfriend [I’m apprehensive to call her his girlfriend because their relationship is quite undefined, but Rose assumes that is his girlfriend so sure, for the sake of this post, let’s call her that]. Rose has very little sympathy for Jenny when she discovers she may be pregnant, speaking in a very matter of fact manner about the situation. Instead she is interested in whether Jenny actually is pregnant, could she be lying, what would she do with the baby, and commenting on how Jenny is way too young to have a baby and how it may ruin her (and maybe Dunc’s) life.
Rose’s judgement and lack of empathy towards these type of girls is also shown while she and Windy watch horror movies. They watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jaws and laugh at the ridiculously fake looking gore and how stupid these teenagers are for being in these scenarios in the first place. As they watch Friday the 13th, there is a slight change in tone for Rose. Throughout the film she complains about the the “dumb girls who can’t save themselves” (196), heavily laying on the disapproving judgment on how these girls have put themselves in these horrible situations and now these guys have to save them. She is almost annoyed, but once the brutal slaughtering of the movie begins, a look of horror creeps on her face as Windy hides her face. This seems to be the first moment Rose shares in the fear of another.
This attitude rears its head again while Rose are enjoying the beach. She passes judgment once again on Jenny, placing blame on her for her potential pregnancy. She insists that “maybe she deserves it” (240) and that she didn’t “take care of [her] stuff” (240). When Windy objects, Rose explains that “all the girls here are sluts” (241). Pretty harsh right? Especially since Rose has never spoken to Jenny, she has only overheard what the teenagers say in front of the convenience store and what Windy has heard. It takes Windy to walk out on her for Rose to realize maybe she is jumping to conclusions.
Perhaps Rose doesn’t have all of the facts. Or perhaps she is looking through a foggy lenses. Whenever she looks at Jenny pre-pregnancy, Rose is always looking through something – she cannot see the clear full picture. Mariko and Jillian Tamaki have Rose looking through the cracks in the fence or through a gummy foot. The image is only a mere shadow of the truth. Just like Rose, we have an idea of what is happening, but there are missing pieces. We are forced to fill in the blanks ourselves with our own conclusions and assumptions.
Having Windy walking out on her at the beach shifts the situation into perspective for Rose. Perhaps Windy is seeing something that Rose is not. She was so sure that Jenny was cheating on Dunc with the boy who hugged her at the Heritage Museum, but now she isn’t so sure. Windy could be right, thinking it may have been her brother or a friend. Rose feels conflicted and unsure of what she knows. But if she is right, Dunc deserves to know. When she is outside of his house, she begins to write “she is chea-” on a dusty arcade gaming machine, but cuts herself off to add “I think” to the beginning. She realizes that she might be wrong.
Rose begins to face the fact that she does not have all of the answers, a hard realization for anybody young or old. The flicker of uncertainty is scary, but it is a sign of maturity when you can admit that “I think” rather than spewing everything you say as truth.
Jenny is not the only mystery in Awago. Over the vacation, Rose notices the distance between her mother Alice and the rest of the family and their friends. Alice refuses to go into the water when her sister and brother-in-law come to visit and she pushes her husband Evan away when he tries to make loving advances toward her in the kitchen. Rose views her mother as an unhappy wet blanket that shouldn’t have even come to the cottage if she didn’t plan to have any fun – a perspective that Evan yells at Alice when she pushes him away. Again, she is missing the information and jumping to conclusions based on a single perspective and hearsay.
The only thing she knows is that since last summer, when Alice and Evan were thinking about having another baby, there seemed to be a rift growing between Alice and everybody else. Rose’s mother became distant, and remains distant this summer. She only sees her mother act out on the beach when her brother-in-law tries to convince her to come into the water and when her father leaves for a couple days in need of space.
Rose equates their family’s unhappiness to her father not even wanting another baby, claiming he is perfectly content with just Rose, and blames her mother for trying to make it happen and then becoming distant. She is angry with her mother and yells at her. She is placing blame. You can clearly see the hurt in Alice’s face right here in this scene, but Rose cannot see the hurt because her mother is turned away.
Again, just like with Jenny, Rose doesn’t have the complete picture. She can’t even see Alice’s pained face. She does not see what is happening without her in the room and takes what she does see as all the evidence. What she doesn’t know is that her father did want the baby. And that the past year has been rough on her mother because she is coping with something much more than her body not wanting the baby – again, just like in the situation with Jenny, Rose breaks down the situation in a much more removed matter-of-fact sort of way. Last summer, when they were on their annual Awago vacation, Alice lost the baby. She miscarried. While out on the beach in the water, she felt herself lose the baby after just finding out she was six weeks pregnant and has been finding it difficult to pick herself back up since.
Rose overhears Alice’s confession to Windy’s mother Evelyn at the end of their time in Awago. Alice admits that she didn’t want to tell Rose. Perhaps they didn’t want to put that burden on their daughter, but Evelyn suggests to give Rose a bit more credit, and that perhaps it is time for Rose to know. She reassures Alice that Rose will “get it”.
And she does. Rose finally understands. She cries for her mother, imagining the pain she must have felt. She is no longer angry with her mother. In fact she wanted to be there for her parents, as she crawls into bed with her father, perhaps seeking her own comfort. She admits to herself that she has always had this image of Awago in her head, an image that she didn’t want to taint. An image that was perfect. At least perfect in her head, but Rose’s image doesn’t have all the facts and everybody’s story, only her own.
When arriving in Awago, Rose has very little understanding of the people around her. She takes facts as they are, removing compassion to the point of almost apathy towards others’ hardships. She is unable see the emotion on their faces, whether it is being obstructed by something, or the person is turned away from her. She makes the judgments based on what little information she knows. She fills in the blanks herself. By the end of their short cottage vacation, Rose learns there is much more than the surface at first glance. She sees the fear and even despair in Jenny’s face when she tries to drown herself at the beach. She sees the pain and loneliness in her mother when she opens up to Evelyn.
We are all emotional beings. As that cheesy saying goes, everybody is fighting their own battles. This is a hard lesson for Rose to learn, but it is a lesson that every adolescent, whether you’re in their early teens or you’re on the cusp of becoming an adult, needs to learn. Rose (and Windy to an extent) are so numb towards horror movies, the very genre that requires you to have that horrifying gut reaction because you feel for the character. They are numb to the pain of others, only interested in gummy feet and how fake the shark in Jaws looked. By the end of the summer, they see the horrors and fear in those Hollywood teenage actors and agree to no more horror movies thanks to Windy screaming weird stuff in her sleep. In this one summer, Rose not only gain the wonderful loving gift of empathy, but she also learned to not jump to conclusions based on what only she knows. It is better to just hope that Jenny is “cool”.
As she walks by that same fence she saw Jenny through, she cannot see the mess behind the fence. As the reader, it’s hard to tell if everything with Jenny will be okay, indicated in the mess on the other side of the fence. Rose cannot see that side of the fence, but instead of create some elaborate image of Jenny in her head, she just hopes. And that might be one of the only things we can do for those in pain. Just hope she’s cool.