Diversity Aboveground: This One Summer Transfixed
What better way to spend the summer than reading about someone else’s summer?
This One Summer isn’t just some bestseller, although it made the New York Times list for paper backs, or tawdry romance novel, although it has more than ten One Star reviews on Amazon complaining about the language and sexual references. It’s a book fully deserving of its many, many awards including being named a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book. Yes, Caldecott does mean it’s written about teenagers for teenagers but older readers can appreciate it just as much if not more.
Rose Wallace and her parents have been renting a beach house every summer since she was five but This One Summer is when it all changes and it doesn’t seem certain that they’ll ever come back again. As her parents’ marriage crumbles, Rose struggles with being an adolescent. Who should she emulate? How should she act in order to be more mature?
Windy is Rose’s summer friend who stays with her mom in her grandmother’s rented cottage. She’s one and a half years younger than Rose and without all adolescent angst. However, in many ways, she also acts as Rose’s conscience despite being the younger of the two. Windy is confident enough with her body to wear a bikini even though she’s not a perfect size ten.
Awago Beach is a town so backwards that the convenience store still rents out films and not a Redbox but pencil and paper. Except for a turkey farm, the entire economy revolves around the tourist season including the general store, miniature golf and Historic Heritage Huron Village. It’s a complete contrast to the girls’ school year spent in New York City. While all children have a fascination with those slightly older than themselves, there’s a special curiosity about teenagers that are so unlike them. Rose studies them like they were a rare animal species but even Windy gets caught up in their stories and describes it as “It’s like a TV show where we only get to watch the first two episodes.” However, the younger girl didn’t like investigating the natural habitat of their trailer park and private hang-out by the creek.
“Are we even allowed in here? This place is weird,” Windy complains and when Rose asks, “Why? they’re just houses”, Windy replies that, “Yeah, but everything’s like, crappy.”
It’s rare for a young adult book to even tackle economic disparity. Almost a hundred years ago, economic disparity among the waterfront meant the differences between Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Myrtle Wilson. Now even the middle class Rose and Windy are worlds apart from the abject poverty of the townies.
This One Summer is about females’ relationships with each other so males exist to advance the story but not much more than that. It’s a welcome change. It’s also about how hard females can be on each other. Rose knows her mom is hurting but isn’t entrusted to know why and it bothers her. The fact that it’s causing her dad to leave them part of the time makes her even more upset until she lashes out at a horror film, “Less guys would die if they weren’t rescuing these dumb girls who can’t save themselves.” Her mentality goes back to the memory of her mom teaching her to open her eyes under the water, “I thought it was something special like a power. Until I told Windy and realized, like, everyone can do it if they try.” To Rose, her mom isn’t trying hard enough to open her eyes under the water. However, what makes the book work so well is that it also gives her mom’s side of it including the heartbreaking recollection of what turned Rose’s mom into an emotional “zombie.”
The only demerit against the book is the lack of clear diversity. The majority of the cast is Caucasian and while some could be Asian, none appear to be Hispanic or African American. However, there are several Huron characters including one named Jenny who is a major side character. The second time that Rose and Windy see Jenny that summer she’s defending herself against her boyfriend’s friend, “Since when do you get to call me a slut, asshole?”
Despite seeing how upset the term made Jenny, both girls use “slut” in front of their mothers who promptly tell them how that is not okay. Later, when Rose is equating Jenny with her mother, she describes her as, “I think it’s stupid that girls can’t like, take care of their stuff and then everything is fucked up. Maybe she deserves it…Windy, all the girls here are sluts.” Acting as her conscience and in loco parentis, Windy tells her, “It’s just that…that’s kind of…that’s kind of sexist.”
Yes, females can be sexist to each other!
This is just halfway through the worst fight between Rose and Windy. Jenny also comes up again before the end.
This One Summer is a collaboration between Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. The cousins have an earlier novel, Skim, but you may recall that Jillian’s comic, SuperMutant Magic Academy , was featured on Free Comic Book Day.
Remember two years ago when Marvel released a Young Adult novel all about Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk?
Nope, nobody else does either!
Now Marvel is trying again with the highly anticipated novel, Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl. She-Hulk’s author, Marta Acosta, was virtually unknown but Stohl had a worldwide bestseller series with Beautiful Creatures that was also turned into a feature film.
In the book, Natasha Romanov becomes involved in the lives of two teenagers, including a 17 year old Russian, and the story takes her all around the globe as the reader also gets to go inside her mind and her past.
But this still doesn’t make up for not having a film…
Did you see Spy?
If the answer is no, why not? Spy contains a title character who’s female AND can take out ten people in two minutes or less. It’s not the slapstick romp as the advertising suggested but more of an action film with some humorous parts to it.
Next week will be whether Jurassic Park and its sequels utterly fail in being diverse.