This One Summer

I miss summer. Yesterday was cold and rainy. This morning, it snowed. Now the sun is playing hide and seek through the clouds but only because the wind won’t let up. It’s the kind of wind that blows your car door wide open, hitting the car parked next to it. Or in my case, gives that extra push when you’re about to lose your footing on the slick ice. Have I mentioned that I hate winter?

While I’m on my mini rant, I might as well add that my teen years were miserable. Somehow I survived the awkward, painful years of liking boys who were too cool to be seen talking to me, begging for contacts, only to find they did nothing for my cool factor, and enduring hours of gym class, humiliated every time I got hit in the face with a volleyball or picked next to last for teams. I wasn’t allowed to go to parties or concerts so I didn’t have much in common with the cool Asian crowd. I wasn’t a band geek, or in drama. I was too shy for student council or anything that involved being in the center of attention. I was a floater who didn’t really fit in anywhere. And then there was that one year when this one girl made up horrible lies about me and everyone believed them. Is it any wonder that I came out the other end wearing black clothes, combat boots, with my nose buried in a book?

Reading was definitely an escape for me, still is, which is why it’s rare that I choose to read about those years. It’s not a time I like to revisit. But First Second hasn’t let me down yet. I have loved everything they put out. This is no exception.

“This One Summer” is in blue scale, giving it a melancholy feel. It has beautiful two page spreads without words. And just like in conversation, I appreciate a person who knows when it’s appropriate to speak and when silence says volumes. And sometimes one word can cut through everything. It’s a short story about one summer in Rose’s life. Her family goes to Awago Beach every year, a longstanding tradition that is meant to be a familiar getaway. But this year, life is complicated and they are too tangled to escape it all. There is a dark cloud that follows her mother. Anyone who gets close is bound to feel the storm. As it often happens to teenagers, where you’re no longer a child but not quite an adult, her parents try to shield her from it rather than bring her in, so Rose struggles with what happened and how it affects her. Then there’s the boy at the video rental counter, an older boy, who has his own problems to deal with. Fortunately she has her friend Windy, whose name is very fitting her personality. She’s a little younger and a little immature but keeps her buoyed when life could weigh her down and reminds her to laugh.

There isn’t really an end, or a resolution. Things aren’t resolved in an episode, they aren’t wrapped up in a summer. But Rose learns a little, grows a little. To me, this rings true-such is life. At the end, Rose and Windy try to breathe in as much Asago air as possible, to hold onto that feeling a little longer before heading home. Despite all the angst, there are moments I remember trying to do the same.

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The past month and a half have been rough. After the holidays, the four of us (my husband, both kids, and I) took turns having some sort of illness. When one got better, someone else went down. Thankfully, no one got the full blown flu, just a bug that lasted a day. And then there were respiratory infections and ear infections. Now I’m battling a horrible infection (I’ll spare you the details) and on antibiotics and seeing my doctor twice a week. I was in pain for 3 weeks and am finally feeling better. Needless, to say, I am ready for spring.

It’s February in Chicago. It’s the dreary end of winter but it’s not quite spring. We’re stuck somewhere in between and it’s not a nice place to be when you’re in the midwest. The snow is dirty and piled high. It’s been raining all day so the sidewalks are slick. I almost wiped out 3 times just going from my car to my front door. And we haven’t seen the moon for days. My poor daughter has been so sad. “Mama? My moon? Where go?” I tell her it’s hiding and she nods wisely, like she’s not almost 2 but 12.

I read this book back in December but I haven’t written about it because it’s lingered, like a dark and twisty kind of dream that I can’t put into words. It starts off with a tragic accident, where Deshi’s impulsive action results in the death of his older brother. His parents banish him until he can find a corpse bride for him, an ancient Chinese tradition, so that he won’t be alone in the afterlife. It’s repulsive and fascinating at the same time. Hence the dark and twisty part that appeals to my sensibilities. But what comes of his quest are unexpected.

The illustrations are rough and at times … ugly. It’s a harsh word and I don’t mean it to be critical. It’s appropriate and fitting. But then, there are surprises. There are beautiful, dreamy, water color spreads of the countryside and mountains. There are wordless moments where I think I might have held my breath. It was not at all what I expected it to be. And that is one of the things I love about reading – finding the unexpected.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and now it no longer works. I’m anxiously waiting for the print version to be available because I want to read it again. I want to see if it is as I remember it or if parts of the dream have shifted. In the meantime, I am trying to get my hands on other books by Danica Novgorodoff.