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All Summer Long review: A genuine, touching snapshot of adolescence

A great story about having to grow up, set against the familiar backdrop of a summer vacation.

Hope Larson
Price: $8.40
Was: $12.99

Writer/artist Hope Larson is back with her first graphic novel since her 2012 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. Description from publisher First Second:

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.

All Summer Long is a snapshot of summer vacation and what we did to fill those school free days. It’s a premise that’s been touched on before in both books and movies, but ASL is able to leave its own, unique footprint on the subject, not because of the time of the year, but by showcasing the main characters in that awkward time of their life which is caught between childhood and growing up. 13 year old Bina is the protagonist and it’s clear at the beginning of the book she’s fine with everything staying the same. Her next door neighbor Austin, who happens to be her best friend that she usually spends the entire summer with, signals he’s ready to leave childish things behind.I thought Larson did a good job of balancing Austin’s character, where it would have been easy to make him too aloof or a sudden bad guy who doesn’t want anything to do with Bina. Instead you can see he still values their friendship, even when making it clear his interests have changed and he’s outgrown some of the activities Bina has been looking forward to. It’s a good place for Bina to start her journey, since she can’t quite figure out whether Austin is just maturing, like he says, or if there relationship has changed in some way.

Austin goes away to soccer camp for a month, and Bina finds a whole, empty summer that needs to be filled. After being cut off from TV by her parents, Bina finds an unlikely friend in Austin’s rough-around-the-edges older sister, Charlie. The relationship broadens Bina’s horizons, with both good and bad consequences. It makes up the largest section of the book and Larson uses it to subject her protagonist to the personality of older kids, relationships and responsibility, all of which help her character grow.

The artwork reminded me of of Archie comics in a way, which felt right given the setting and age of the characters, though that is about all that’s similar. The more comic look of its characters allows their faces to be really expressive, which allows you to see their frustration and disappointment without a lot of pretext and unnecessary prose. There’s an orange hue to all the art playing off the summer theme; otherwise, everything is black and white (orange). Don’t let the art fool you though, as the story is very genuine and doesn’t offer any winks or outlandish comedy.

Is It Good?

I enjoyed All Summer Long, as it felt very genuine. Larson didn’t have to rely on invention or exaggerated situations to move the plot, and her characters along, which made it very refreshing. It’s hard not to love and sympathize with Bina — she was well rounded and a great character to take the lead in this book. It’s funny how your biggest worries as a kid were things like, “What should I do with all my free time?”. By the time you hit middle and high school your biggest worries become being seen or by your peers. Hope Larson gets a snapshot of this part of life, right at the starting line, and does a fine job laying it out for us to see in All Summer Long.

All Summer Long
Is it good?
A great story about having to grow up, set against the familiar backdrop of a summer vacation.
Likable and believable main character.
A relatable story, with a touch of nostalgia, written well enough that it seems like it could be a true story.
Larson does a good job developing her secondary characters, particularly Austin and Charlie.
You’ll know from the summation at the top if it’s for you, which for some comic fans it won’t be, unfortunately.
Artwork has a comic strip feel to it, which might put some people off before they give it a chance.
9
Great
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