Humor and the Body in Children’s Lit x This One Summer

This One Summer is a graphic novel from the creative duo behind Skim. In This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki pair up again to bring us the story of one girl’s summer: in a familiar place, Awago Beach (her family’s summering spot), while she grapples with the new and unfamiliar of growing up and leaving girlhood. It is in this in-between place that we meet Rose and her summertime sister/best friend, Windy. While Rose (and Windy) oscillate between carefree girlhood and the pangs of pre-teen angst and growing up, we see the body and humor operate in different ways.

Rose is the narrator and she is one year older than Windy. Because of this, she often drives the adventures, and her particular ‘pre-teen but crossing into teen’ proclivities dictate what they do. One such pastime is the consumption of horror movies. When Rose decides she’s not interested in X-men or Sex and the City anymore (the movies Windy already has), Rose and Windy go to the local store, Brewster’s, to rent a film. Postulating as grown-up, teenager, “cool,” in the hope of impressing her summer crush, Rose grabs the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet, at home, in a private space, Rose and Windy hide under the covers instead of watching the film outright, while text and sound bubbles surround them (“ BZZZZ!!” “Splat!!” “Squirt!” “HELP ME!!”). Rose asks Windy to distract her, and Windy brings up oral sex. “That’s so gross!!” Windy proclaims, when she finds out what it entails (all the while, the movie continues to contribute background sound for the conversation). This is in line with McGillis’ assertion that “we can see the potentially subversive aspect of humor most clearly in the scatological and violent manifestations, its obsession with the body and all its discernable parts (264)”: the sounds of dismembering bodies surround the two girls while they discuss oral sex. “The dead body and the body in pieces are recurring features of children’s stories and fantasies, and it is quite possible to find humor in the body in pieces (263).” And indeed, some of the most poignant scenes are the ones in which we see Rose grapple with her fear of the horrific images from the films they consume. For example, she sprints home one night after watching Friday the 13th and bursts into nervous/scared/tired laughter after making it home unscathed.

We also see This One Summer grapple with the humor around changing girls bodies. Windy and Rose have extensive conversations around boobs and speculate on what size boobs they will have. In one scene on the beach, Windy proceeds to dance around as they together shriek “BREASTS!” “TITS!” “SEXY TA-TAS!” before being admonished by passing adults. Rose and Windy collapse, laughing. Here, “language itself provides broad humor (264)” as the girls confront the reality of their own changing bodies and those of their peers. With all that happens in the book, it literally closes on Rose thinking, “Boobs would be cool,” as she and her family leave the cottage for the summer.

This One Summer tackles a number of topics, from teenage sex, to miscarriage, to family tensions, to summer crushes, to the pangs of growing up and leaving girlhood. The body, bodies, and body parts play an ongoing role throughout the book, and the humor in relation to the body is both gentle at times (Windy mangling gummy feet candies before consuming them) or unrelentingly grotesque (as with the many scenes involving horror films). The visuals vividly drive all this home; I will share some of my favorites in class.

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