This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Every summer Rose and her family meet up with another family, consisting of a grandmother, mother, and Windy who is a year younger than Rose, for a summer beach vacation in New England. Not many things change between these summers but sometimes it's when you're away from the familiar that you start to realize how much you've started changing.
This story evokes a very specific setting and feeling of summertime and parts of it worked for me and parts of it didn't. Mariko and Jillian did a fantastic job at replicating what being in a beach house in the US in the summer is like, that sense of both laziness and urgency to "enjoy it while you can" and visually in how things are almost Spartanly plain and yet still a little seedy, that this is an okay place to visit but one you would outgrow very fast if you had to live there. It's not quite a nostalgic feeling for me but I could immediately apply my own experiences to this tone and feel that connection with Rose and Windy's families.
There are many parts to this story however and one other, rather major part, is Rose's budding romantic interests in life and I have to say that (unsurprisingly) I didn't connect with those at all. I think that Rose's first crush, a rather gross teenaged boy a few years older than her, was also supposed to evoke a kind of nostalgia for the readers who are also into guys, maybe because I am completely confused by it. A lot of times I can "understand" the romantic interest in a story, "oh they're attractive, oh I like this dynamic", basically I can understand shipping and do it a lot of the time. But the relationships here are significantly more "real" as Rose finds herself both attracted and repulsed by the mentions of sex and abortion and her crush is clearly supposed to be an unlikable guy so I was left with the fundamental "I don't get it" feeling. I know that for most people this won't be a problem at all, that I am different so I always have these problems with romances, but I don't feel like that makes my own thoughts less "valid" or like I shouldn't put them down here. I feel like I'm accidentally pigeonholing myself every time I talk about romance in a story (which is at least 80% of media that I stumble across) and say "I don't get it, I felt alienated for not getting what the author assumed I already knew". And in this case since this is such an intimate story I don't want to even hazard a wrong guess for what the Tamaki sisters were going for in terms of ideas here, I think they succeeded in any case?
Rose herself is a character who I can at least understand but not empathize with particularly well (although I did feel like I was betraying myself for liking Windy more since I was more like Rose growing up). If I had ever been nearly that surly in front of my parents I would have been in so much trouble, it made me remember a time when I seemed to get in trouble at every single family get together when I crossed the line from grumpy to rude. It was weird to see Rose act like that and not get in trouble for it, the closest we get is when Windy has a very well-articulated moment of frustration which was one of the best parts of the book. I do understand why she feels the way she does since her life is in a weird place, her parents are obviously in a strained relationship and it's clear to the reader and the other characters that her parents are simply not communicating with her the way they need to. As the reader you find out the reason for the stress near the end and it makes sense but it felt a little disingenuous to find out without Rose ever knowing. Another character even says "You should tell her, kids are more mature than you think" and it felt like the story was preventing Rose from growing by not giving her that critical part to understand why she needs to grow.
When you combine that feeling with the other feelings in this story, the setting and Rose's romance, I felt like this book was more about the reader than the characters in a way. This felt like a book that was supposed to supplement that one summer or those many summers the reader had and as they look back on it years later instead of feeling like a book that was a story. There was a story here for sure but part of the story is the reader.