I’m often drawn to stories that capture the magic of being human–books that connect us to one another and remind us to look beyond what we think we see. Maybe this is because I try to stay on the hopeful side of life, or it may have to do with the fact I teach one hundred 13 year olds everyday: it is part of the job description to learn to see the best in this age group. I’ve written before about when people hear I’m a teacher, the response is always along the lines of “that’s so great!” When they ask what grade (and have figured out it is also a New York City public school–ha) they usually apologize: “I’m so sorry,” “that must be rough,” etc. etc.
To be honest, when I started reading graphic This One Summer I was expecting something similar to The Summer Book, which is decidedly not saccharin book, but a beautiful, clever ode to summer and family. Its main characters are a young girl and her grandmother, who are easy to find endearing, even when at their worst. This One Summer surprised me because it wasn’t a story of looking back with a nostalgic eye on a magical summer, but one in which the main character wrestles with a world that doesn’t feel quite as magical anymore: kind of like the time you went to pick up some favorite toys are realized a piece was missing in your mind: the imagination play didn’t come as easily.
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki gorgeously captured the early moments of the adolescent experience: one foot still in play with the other in crushes and the desire for sophistication, feeling hurt and hurting others, lacking the experience to cope with the world’s (and their own) flaws. As a middle school teacher, I saw my students in the characters and what the Tamakis (cousins, one the illustrator, the other the writer) were able to portray about growing up was profound.
I found the story and the panels to be a reminder of what it feels like to be leaving childhood–the fear, the excitement, the confusion–and it culled in me not just empathy for my students who are in the middle of it, but to a degree, a greater understanding of myself and the process of growing up. As I read, my stomach kept lurching as I watched the characters interact, think, and look at the world. This story will be a great companion for young adults–one to which I think they will deeply connect, but moreover, I think it is a beautiful reminder for adults of what it felt like to be that 13 year old–and perhaps receive them with a little more grace. There is complex sorrow and beauty in growing up, and This One Summer is a perfect reminder.
(The New Yorker shared an excerpt if you want to check it out.)