this one summer

Summer is over? Already?? How did that happen? I know I shouldn’t be surprised as this has been the case every year since forever, but summer really did seem to fly by. If you’re still in the mood for some summery reading (say… if you’re at the beach this weekend and looking for a quick recommendation), I’d like to suggest This One Summer, a poignant graphic novel by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

this one summer by mariko tamaki and jillian tamaki book cover
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens - just a couple of years older than Rose and Windy - is caught up in something bad... Something life threatening.

It's a summer of secrets, and sorrow, and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

This One Summer is a tremendously exciting new teen graphic novel from two creators with true literary clout. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of childhood - a story of renewal and revelation.

Rose and her parents head to the lake every summer – it’s tradition. It’s where Rose sees Windy, her friend and surrogate little sister, every year. This year’s visit is different, though. Rose is in that in-between stage between kid and teenager, and the atmosphere at the lake is fraught with tension. Her parents might be fighting. Her friendship with Windy doesn’t hold as much appeal. The locals have their own drama. And while secrets are being traded and/or coming to light, Rose and Windy are growing up.

This One Summer is an award-winner, and for good reason. It’s a beautifully-written and -illustrated coming of age tale. Rose and Windy are entirely believable characters and friends. Rose is on the cusp of womanhood, with all of the angst and feeling that entails. One of the book’s strengths is the way it outlines how familiar places and social landscapes can change shape faster than you can imagine. The book also shines in its portrayal of family conflict – resolved or not. Another strong point is unpacking the words society uses for girls and women. This book does so many important things well, it’s really impressive.

This One Summer was the most banned book of 2016. And that is because the Tamakis not only told a beautiful story, but a true one. There’s so much honesty in the text and the art – and in telling a story around the sorts of secrets that are real and terrible. This One Summer is a slice of summer life as it really is, not sugarcoated, but perhaps heading in a positive direction. I would not hesitate to give this book to any child aged 11-and-up – it will spark important conversations and questions.

I mentioned the art, so let’s talk about that. It’s great! The facial expressions in particular are fantastic – rendered in blue and purple colored pencil line work on white pages. There’s visceral feeling imbued in each of the panels, and the choice of subject is subtle and tender at some of the most anxious moments. This book shines in a lot of ways, but the harmony between text and art is really fabulous.

In all, This One Summer is an incredible book, and one that should rightfully become a classic. If you haven’t picked it up yet, do yourself a favor and relive the summer-ness of it (and maybe cry a bit too).

Recommended for: fans of excellent graphic novels and anyone who enjoys affecting coming-of-age fiction, รก la Melissa Walker’s Unbreak My Heart.


Thursday, August 9, 2018 | | 0 comments
Here is my truth: I don’t read poetry often, but I wish I did. I want to be that person who reads poems and religious texts and essays on important cultural topics regularly. And it’s not because I think that sort of person is better or more serious. No, I just know that when I read more widely, because I had to (school, for so many years), I was a more interesting on the inside. I absorbed it all and tried on different ways of thinking and my dreams were varied and colorful.

So every now and then I try to make myself into that person again. I try. I read poetry, I linger on a prayer, and I purchase a book of essays. And when I do, I sometimes come across a text that is… abstruse? I can’t get into it at all, though I enjoy the language and drink in the words with my eyes. They just end up traveling right through me without leaving a permanent mark. When I read novels, if they are any good, they scoop out my feelings with a spoon, and that is its own delightful pain/pleasure. I return to that over and over. Lighting up my brain with poetry takes more effort (usually), and I am loath to loan myself the time if the pleasure is fleeting. In this case I took as long as I needed to. And my reading experience turned into something meaningful.

I asked my library to order Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s volume of award-winning poetry, Cenzontle, because I read a lovely review of it in Shelf Awareness. And then, because I kept it so long, the library declared it lost (don’t worry, I eventually returned it). I finished it, and though I don’t think I “got” all of it (poetry is hard), I enjoyed it. I tried. I am maybe becoming the person I want to be. I adored the way Hernandez Castillo’s words made me play with mine (even here in this “review”), and I’ll be amazed by the vivid dreams I’m probably going to have for the next few weeks because those words painted the inside of my brain in electric neon.

Hernandez Castillo writes about growing up, and sex, and birth and death, and birds and honey and words and dreams. He writes about having a brown body, and sorrow (unrelated)(?), and being an undocumented immigrant. His poems are peppered with prayers, and internal/external juxtapositions. Maybe I didn’t absorb it all, but I could appreciate the lyricism and flights of fancy and maybe I understood a few metaphors. I understood enough to like, to keep reading. I think it was beautiful. I kept rereading one line here, maybe two, pondering if that one or this one was something I’d copy down and keep. Okay, I know it was beautiful.

God, I don’t have anything else to say. Read that Shelf Awareness review. Read the book yourself (it’s compact). Let me know what you think of it. I am going to work on reading more poetry and I plan to come back to Cenzontle again. I’ll even buy my own copy this time so that the library doesn’t think it’s lost.

cenzontle by marcelo hernandez castillo book cover
In this lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heterosexual marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging. Finding solace in the resignation to sheer possibility, these poems challenge us to question the potential ways in which two people can interact, love, give birth, and mourn―sometimes all at once.

ice wolves

I have, for the past several years, considered myself a dragon person. Not that I am personally a dragon (though I admit to entertaining thoughts about books as a hoard in place of gold), but that I will read practically any book that contains dragons. So along came this middle grade fantasy Ice Wolves by an author I already admired (Amie Kaufman), combining both shapeshifting dragons and wolves, and I knew it would be just my sort of comfort reading. And it was, along with fun, readable, and a solid start to a series with an interesting premise.

ice wolves by amie kaufman book cover
Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

Anders and Rayna are twins surviving on the streets of Holbard, the biggest city in Vallen. Holbard’s harbor is famous for being protected by magic, and so it has a diverse populace from all over the (fictional) world. Anders and Rayna steal to eat, run across the city’s rooftop meadows, and rely solely on one another – the only way of life they’ve ever known. As orphans of a dragon fire fight that destroyed part of the city when they were very young, they must make it on their own – coexisting with other street kids, but never joining them. When the city’s typical trial for twelve year olds to see if they can manage a wolf transformation upends their lives, Anders will have to step out of his more independent sister’s shadow, make his own way, make new friends, and concoct a daring rescue/escape plan.

Ice Wolves is an action-packed adventure with plucky orphans, a wolf school, mysteriously failing magics, secretive enemies, kidnappings, ice and fire fights, and scorch dragons and ice wolves. It’s definitely an electric mix, and the plot is fast-moving to match the subject matter. Anders is the focal point, and his frustrations and explorations introduce the reader to a world full of contradictions.

Anders himself is the typical unlikely hero who discovers something remarkable about himself, but cannot capitalize on it (and is the weakest link in his new environment). Meanwhile he’s trying, for the first time in his life, to be the twin with initiative and rescue his savvier sister. It’s a fairly standard setup for the middle grade fantasy genre, and I would not say it is groundbreaking…

EXCEPT, Kaufman’s writing is solid and the concept (dragon- and wolf-shifters at war!) is terrific. Ice Wolves will introduce young fans to a cool fantasy world based a bit on Norse history (marked by Holbard’s turf roofs, runic magic, and location far enough north that there’s plenty of snow). Kaufman also has Anders mull the moral quandaries of stealing to eat, saving and acknowledging society’s most vulnerable, his city’s class hierarchy, the divide between magical and regular humans, and misinformation campaigns spread by those in power. In addition, Anders and Rayna are brown, which challenges the white-as-default stereotype I read as a young fantasy fan (and which still pervades today). All while keeping the plot moving and including plot twists!

In all, Kaufman’s execution, world-building and attention to detail in Ice Wolves generate something out of the ordinary. The Elementals series is sure to make new fans of fantasy, dragons, and werewolves, and delight current ones.

Recommended for: fans of dragon books, those who like middle grade fantasy and science fiction along the lines of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy or the How to Train Your Dragon films, and anyone with a soft spot for shapeshifting and adventurous orphans.
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