Megan and Cass spend summers in the cottage their parents rent. Megan’s family drives to Topinabee, Michigan from Illinois; Cass’ family from Pennsylvania. The two girls are inseparable artists. After an incident where they were caught drawing on the walls, they start to collaborate on each others’ drawings. Each subsequent summer, they show each other what they learned in art class over the past year and create new work together. Something changes the summer they both turn 13. Cass’ father is away on a “business trip,” Megan’s father is pressuring her to give up art to study business and take over the family hardware store. The next summer they spend together is their senior year of high school, in New York City where Cass and her mother have moved. Megan meets Cass’ artist friends and connections and sees how she’s grown and changed since last they met. Cass encourages Megan to take chances, but when will it go too far?
Upon closing this graphic novel, it immediately shot to the top of my Top 10 list for this year. It’s indescribably good and gave me all the feels. The writing deftly shows how growing up changes us and our friendships: for better or worse. We see how each character handles the expectations from family and how they are able (or not) to operate and express themselves with the constraints they are given. These cues build up to the climax, which (without spoilers) is so dang HEARTBREAKING given all the progress that both characters had made. Afterwards, they must learn how to rebuild what they had broken.
Muted pastels color the whole book, as if you’re watching the story unfold through a summer haze. The linework is messy, loose, and sketchy, conveying movement and emotion above all. It recalls charcoal or pastel pencil. These media are known for being easy to erase and start over again, which perfectly reinforces the main theme of reformation. Once I realized that that was probably the idea behind the art choice, I was blown away all over again.
I can’t talk any more about this graphic novel without spoiling it, so I highly recommend you experience it for yourself. You will fall in love and get your heart broken, and perhaps mended again, by Megan and Cass: two artists who learn how to take chances and be honest not only with each other, but with themselves. I cannot, CANNOT, recommend this graphic novel enough. Easily the best I’ve read this year.
Crilley, Mark. My Last Summer with Cass. 2021.