Saturday, November 14, 2020

MMGM and #IMWAYR (11/16/2020): This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

OK, before we get to today's review, I have to vent. Today, in our house, we kept hearing a smoke alarm chirping as if the battery was low. Normally, smoke alarms chirp every few seconds, but this one was really irregular. Sometimes it would chirp, and then it would go silent. So my family and I ran around the house, trying to find this alarm every time we heard it. But it was absolutely bizarre: every time we ran toward the sound, it sounded like it was coming from a different place. We went upstairs, but then it was downstairs. We went downstairs, and then it was on the other side of the house. We went to the other side of the house, and then it was upstairs again. We. Could. Not. Find. It. We spent hours running around, pulling batteries out of five smoke alarms, putting them back in, testing them, wondering if our whole interconnected system was broken, Googling articles about how to find a chirping smoke alarm, and generally agonizing. And then—this is what really kills me—my sibling, who was on a Zoom call (with their mic muted) all day, mentions that they just heard that other people on the Zoom call could hear a smoke alarm chirping. My sibling's mic was muted. The smoke alarm was in someone else's house, playing over the laptop speakers. AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! I decided I would turn this nightmare into a productive experience by sharing it with you all for your entertainment—and perhaps this can help you all out when you hear your own phantom chirping smoke alarm.

For MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am recommending the graphic novel This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.

Fair warning: This One Summer talks about some stuff that many consider objectionable to MG readers, and I mention some of it below, so proceed with mild caution. This book is squarely considered an MG book, FYI.

          This One Summer holds a particularly interesting title (besides a Caldecott and Printz Honor): the most challenged (requested to be censored) book of 2016 (and the seventh-most of 2018), according to the American Library Association. I'll get into that more later, but I just wanted to mention it because that is the reason I decided to read this stunning graphic novel (along with this book being written by the author of the amazing Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Mariko Tamaki, who is getting her own LGBTQIA+-focused graphic novel imprint this spring!!!). (If you're curious, illustrator Jillian Tamaki is Mariko's cousin.) This One Summer's protagonist is Rose, who spends every summer with her parents in their cabin at Awago Beach, reading, swimming in the ocean, or hanging out with her friend Windy, who also visits each summer. This summer isn't like the other ones, though. Rose's parents keep fighting, she and Windy are going through puberty and grappling with growing up, and she and Windy get wrapped up in the problems of some older kids in Awago, which quickly approach tragedy. Together, Rose and Windy must learn to navigate the complicated world they live in, and it won't be easy.

          I know, I know, I say every single book is "stunning," but this one really is stunning! ;) Seriously, though, This One Summer is gorgeous! I guess the first thing I should talk about is the whole most-challenged-book-of-2016 thing. Why has This One Summer been challenged so much? Well, there's an offhand mention of lesbians, and Tamaki has said that Windy is a lesbian (though that is never made explicitly clear in the book), but those are far from the only thing some people (mostly unreasonably) find objectionable. You see, This One Summer dares to depict how kids actually think and wonder as they are inevitably exposed to all the adult things adults wish they didn't know about. Some are less shocking, like adoption, miscarriage, teenage pregnancy, and breasts; others are more shocking, like attempted suicide (not by them, thank God) and even hearing about [redacted unless you click here]. Is that something I was shocked to see in any book, much less an MG book? Yes. But is that something kids already have heard about through some unfortunate venue? Well...yes. Here's the thing: kids know more than we all want them to. We want to keep them all preserved from the bizarreness and terror of the real world, but that just makes them want to know things even more. And if we pretend that kids don't know any of this stuff, they just feel weird and out of place for thinking about it. If they're going to know about it, someone might as well have the courage to normalize the act of thinking and wondering about it, and luckily for us, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki are those people. If you are a bit dissuaded from letting the MG readers in your life read this, I don't blame you, but I don't think there's anything here that kids are going to be scarred by. Also, for the record, it's not like anything objectionable happens; it's just talked about.

          One of the really surprising things about This One Summer, to me at least, is that it does not offer up any morals about the things it discusses. Beyond the conclusions (most pretty reasonable) that Rose and Windy come to on their own, we don't really get much here. This One Summer is more interested in depicting the true experience of two kids grappling with the adult world than with offering up platitudes to kids. (The book's last sentence in particular is a truly hilarious rejection of MG books' tendency to offer up advice.) And that's a mixed blessing. You see, This One Summer does a gorgeous job depicting how two kids go about dealing with all of this stuff. They seem mildly horrified, they wonder out loud, they come to some wise conclusions (kids are more thoughtful than we give them credit for, after all), they come to some terrible conclusions (kids aren't usually as thoughtful as MG books give them credit for, after all), they offend each other and some other people, they make up, and they move on with life. But the problem is, This One Summer is so true-to-life about the unpleasant parts of being a kid that kids might not want to read it! They're awfully familiar with these experiences after all, and reliving them in book form isn't exactly all sunshine and rainbows. This One Summer doesn't offer up some adult's "wisdom" that kids will likely find useless, but by being such a good depiction of the issues of childhood, it might actually repel kids from wanting to read it!

          The good news is that, although kids might find that this story hits too close to home, teens and adults (like me and many of you all) will find this book to be a stunning look into the lives of kids! First of all, This One Summer does an amazing job showing how Rose and Windy get tangled up in the messy lives of the older teens on Awago Beach. They never befriend them, but through always being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong time) (as well as a teensy bit of almost-stalking), these two curious kids end up entangled in a quickly-unfolding and painful situation. I appreciated how, for Rose at least, the whole experience tied into her experience of having early crushes, as well as how the whole situation affects Windy, who was given up for adoption and is thus acutely sensitive to some of the issues involved (you'll see what I mean). Also, this is not related at all, but one of the ways Rose and Windy grapple (poorly) with growing up is by secretly watching a bunch of horror movies and traumatizing themselves; I think pretty much every person on this earth can relate to watching something they weren't supposed to watch out of curiosity and then having to deal (secretly, of course, to not get in trouble) with the fallout.

          More stuff! I love how This One Summer is set in a super-small beach town, and it totally nails the vibe of Awago Beach. The town is a touch mysterious, quite beautiful, and sometimes deeply boring—some days, Rose contents herself with swimming in the ocean or having fun with visiting family, and other days, all she can do is lie on her bed, reading comic books. Illustrator Jillian Tamaki's gorgeous, hyper-detailed art further sets the scene and allows readers to see how, for Rose at least, Awago is both hyper-familiar and completely unfamiliar all at once. Also, I should say that I really enjoyed Rose and Windy as characters; both are flawed, but they always remain likable and relatable, and they add a dose of fun (a small one, but still) to the story. I loved the scene when Windy, crazy with sugar, turns on the stereo and dances around the room while Rose quietly draws, bobbing to the beat. Finally, I want to say that the whole plot line involving Rose's parents fighting is really well done. You can really see how one person's inability to have fun on a trip can put a damper on the whole thing for everyone (again, highly relatable, I'm sure—I'm pretty sure I've been that person, unfortunately). Rose's mother and father are also flawed characters, but even as we see how their drama impacts Rose, we are never convinced to hate them entirely, especially at the end when we learn a bit more of her mother's backstory.

          All in all, This One Summer is a shockingly unique book. It grapples with topics most YA books wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, it steadfastly refuses to take the moralizing route of most MG books, and it creates a world that, while sad, is realistic, vivid, and immersive. This One Summer is far from a happy or fun book, but it is a book that will strike a chord with practically any reader (especially the older ones not acutely feeling all of Rose and Windy's pain). I'm glad to have read this truly groundbreaking MG book, and I hope that you all do too so that you can see the possibilities that open up when authors step outside of the boxes set by the genre they are writing in.

P.S. A random inquiry to you all: Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving is coming up soon! As flawed and filled with irritating relatives as it is (though not this year—yes!), it is still my favorite holiday (mostly because of the food, to be honest). I wanted to ask you all if you have ever read any MG or YA books about Thanksgiving, since I feel like there must be some out there! Let me know in the comments!

31 comments:

  1. Gosh, I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't even heard of this book! But your thorough review makes it sound important. (Honestly, since the bookstore closed I'm way out of touch with new MG novels, so 2016 passed me by, as did 2018 when the paperback came out because at that point I was terribly ill!)

    I just finished reading an e-arc of THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE by Chad Lucas, a 2021 MG debut novel coming in May 2021. It's wonderful! It explores adolescence from the dual POV of two 13-year-old boys. The dialog is delightful and there's plenty of humor, but this is far from a "funny boy book". It tackles some serious subjects! You might like it.

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    1. I can never stay up to date with what is new either! I actually saw Thanks a Lot, Universe on your blog and thought, "Oh, I should read this," so I'm glad you thought I would enjoy it as well! (7 more months!) Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  2. ha ha ha Had to laugh about your smoke alarm chirps because WE"VE BEEN THERE!! We've done exactly what you described and spent hours running up and down the stairs, only to finally realize it was the CO detector! I also remember my mom and dad up all night long one night searching for the beeping sound, only to discover a smoke alarm someone gave them as a gift that they never installed, stuck in the back of a dresser drawer! ha ha But your story of it being in someone else's house is even better!! I hope you were all able to have a good laugh over it at least :)

    I LOVED This One Summer when it first came out, for all the reasons you said - just a wonderfully moving, warm story of growing up. I didn't realize it was the #1 challenged book - that's just crazy.

    I'm late with my visits, but I hope you've enjoyed your books this week!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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    1. We definitely had a good laugh! It would have been even worse if it was in a drawer, to be honest, because once the Zoom call ended it would still have been beeping until we found it! I'm so glad you enjoyed This One Summer! Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Great review. Don't love graphic novels, but MEASURING UP turned me around to the creativity and conciseness, plus the appeal for MG readers.
    A PLACE AT THE TABLE has a fun Thanksgiving scene with different cultures.
    Beth

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    1. I'll have to read A Place at the Table—I've already seen a lot of people who enjoyed it! Measuring Up is sitting in my to-be-read stack—I'll try to get to it soon! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  4. Thank you for this review and sharing MG concerns - I appreciate that point of view. Here are some book list from Teaching Tolerance (I would also recommend checking out Lee and Low)
    7 Thanksgiving Books for Kids Written From the Native Perspective – Cool Mom Picks
    Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight – Indian Country Today
    Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List – First Nations Development Institute
    Kids’ Books That Share True Stories of Native Peoples – Sharon Chang
    40 Children’s Books Celebrating Native American and Indigenous Mighty Girls – A Mighty Girl

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    1. What neat lists! I really appreciate you sharing them! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. I will keep that in mind about the smoke alarm, although 30 years ago when I lived in an apartment, I heard one going off next door at 2 in the morning and ended up getting a teen girl out of a burning house! Good to check. As far as Thanksgiving books, there's Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey, Klimo's Dash (probably a bit inaccurate now...), Judy Moody's The Wishbone Wish, The unlikely story of a pig in the city by Jodi Kendall, Taking the cake! by Lisa Papademetriou, Kimmel's Stories from New York, and my favorite, Gail Rock's 1974 The Thanksgiving Treasure! I remember watching the tv show with Jason Robards.

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    1. Oh my goodness, I had no idea there were so many! I'll have to get cracking on a few. Also, wow—that's amazing that you saved someone from a burning house! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  6. Loved your "Zoom Chirp" story. So funny after the fact!
    Thanks for featuring this widely challenged book on MMGM. Yes, kids know more than we'd like to admit. The internet has all the answers to their questions before they have to endure the embarrassment of asking an adult. You've succeeded at adding another book to my reading pile with your enthusiastic review.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my story! Kids definitely know more then they (or we) let on. I really hope you enjoy This One Summer! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  7. I can totally relate to the chirping smoke alarm! I read This One Summer a few years ago and remember really enjoying it. Thanks for your thoughtful review!

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    1. I'm really glad you enjoyed This One Summer! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  8. Thanks so much for warning us so we don't go through your smoke alarm situation. This sounds like a great story from your review and what other commenters say about it.

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    1. It really is an excellent story! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  9. Oh, smoke alarms make me crazy. I am sorry about your own challenge. A few weeks ago, middle of the night, one of mine went off! Well, there was no smoke & I finally got it stopped. I called a technician who said they sometimes do that instead of the chirp. So, new batteries & okay so far. Ugh, why so often in the night? I enjoyed your review, read This One Summer when it came out & loved it. I taught middle-grade students & was teaching then, put it in the classroom & they loved it. Those who think that this age doesn't "know" things are fooling themselves. Thanks for reminding me of this great book.

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    1. I have no idea why they always beep at night! (I read about this one smoke alarm from Nest that, when you turn off the lights, blinks green to tell you that it has enough charge for the night, or blinks yellow to tell you something is wrong—they should all have that!) That's awesome that you shared this great book with your students! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  10. Your smoke alarm story made me laugh! I have read many PBs on Thanksgiving (Thank You Sarah and Balloons Over Broadway), but can't recall a MG or YA book devoted to the holiday. There are books that include Thanksgiving in the story -- but not the focus.

    Wow, you wrote a very passionate post today. The book sounds fascinating. I think back to kids 8-12, and I think of curious kids. I remember my own curiosity and hearing things I shouldn't have from teens in the early 60s. I can't help but wonder if the book is uncomfortable for adults because it stirs up their own memories of puberty and behavior they want to suppress. I believe in being open with kids because it is such a difficult time -- but I'd want to read this book first before I shared it with a kid. Thanks for your enthusiastic review.

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    1. This book definitely makes you think about how much kids really know and how adults can best expose them to it. I appreciate your PB recommendations! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  11. What a crazy thing about the smoke alarm chirping! Whoa. Speaking of smoke alarms, we just watched that older investigative report on how children (up through their teens) don't even wake up to the sound of a blaring smoke alarm right by their bedroom door (due to their sleep patterns and the sound of the alarm) and I actually had this happen with two of my children when we were at a camp together (staying in a dorm room) and the fire alarm when off INSIDE OUR ROOM. They slept right through the whole thing with flashing lights and the loudest alarm I think I've ever heard. In the report it said to get one that you could record a parent's voice saying "Wake up (child's name)! It's a fire! You need to get out of the house now!" so I go looking online and can't find these types of alarms anywhere!! And since my five children are spread out across a three floor house, now I'm a little nervous. EEEEk! Anyway, on to your books... I don't know how I've never read This One Summer. I once started to do a Caldecott challenge and read all the honor books and winners, but I never finished that. I guess it's time to dive in again. Also, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, too! I'll have to think on books related to the holiday, though. Outside of picture books, nothing else is immediately coming to mind.

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    1. That's terrifying—I had no idea kids could sleep through a smoke alarm! I hope you get a chance to read This One Summer—it really is excellent! Thanks so much for stopping by (and have a great Thanksgiving)!

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  12. I'm glad to see you review this book. I loved it when I read it ages ago. (It's why I was so happy to read Laura Dean. I agree with you completely that "kids know more than we all want them to." I would go on to suggest that this is a pretty privileged attitude. Children see and live through all kinds of things adults don't want to think about.
    I taught in an elementary school and put this book on my Grade 7 shelf.
    If you are interested, here is my take on this book. https://dickenslibrary.blogspot.com/2014/12/this-one-summer-by-mariko-tamaki-and.html

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    1. Wow—your review is excellent! I love the phrase you used, "lethargic essence of summer"—that is exactly the feeling of this book! I'm glad you enjoyed it (and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, for that matter)! Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. We've had the same issue as Sue - chirping alarm that ended up being the carbon monoxide detector! Those chirps will DRIVE you crazy, I agree!
    I have checked this out from the library a couple of times and still haven't read it! That was interesting to read about the imprint, though!

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    1. I know—I'm excited to see what comes out of the imprint! I really hope you get a chance to read This One Summer! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  14. Thanks for the chirp alert. They are always hard to pinpoint, but hearing someone else's has got to be the worst. I really appreciate your very thorough review of this book. I hadn't heard of it before, and I don't read very many graphic novels, but I have this at the top of my TBR list now.

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    1. Awesome! I really hope you enjoy This One Summer! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  15. How frustrating about the smoke alarm that wasn't in your house! Glad you finally solved the mystery.

    Once I started your review I remembered hearing about this book- though I haven't read it. It sounds like a story that would appeal to MG readers because of its realness. Thanks for sharing!

    I can't quite recall any MG books focused on Thanksgiving.

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    1. I know—perhaps I'll need to write a mystery novel, "The Case of the Chirping Smoke Alarm." (Something tells me the sales would be pretty low for such a book. ;) ) I'm glad This One Summer sounds appealing to you! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  16. I haven’t heard of this book before (not being a big fan of graphic novels) but it sounds like it’s well worth reading, especially as a writer who wants a good picture of what kids think about issues. Thanks for the review!

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