Cheryl and Anders were a couple with ups and downs, like any other couple. They were together for six years, had adventures great and small, and became engaged in 2005. In the midst of planning their wedding, Cheryl was hospitalized with cancer. Her prognosis wasn’t bad, so hope ran high. Like many of the adventures detailed in the book, however, things did not go as planned. The rest of the tale is the messy heartbreak that comes from watching someone you love suffer and then go to a place where you can’t follow.
This is not a polished, finely crafted work of fiction. This is a real story, made up of real moments, and featuring a real couple. It’s not clear cut. It’s not pretty. It is an emotional glimpse into a tragic love story. Anders completed some of the writing before Cheryl got sick, but most descriptions and panels were written after Anders knew how it turned out.
Put together like a scrapbook, there are postcards, photos, a letter from Anders to his sister about a hilarious, ill-fated camping trip, as well as comic style panels and drawings describing the time in the hospital and funeral. There isn’t a strong narrative or much dialogue, but the simple images and descriptions leave an emotional impact that is only more powerful because of its authenticity.
The drawn graphic narrative portion is only about twelve of the eighty-eight pages, but I found the real images, scanned postcards, and letters more compelling. The drawings are interesting and use different styles depending on the story. Shenanigans on their trip to France use simple, unshaded drawings, while a depiction of Cheryl sleeping in the hospital is incredibly detailed and shaded with hash marks. While you can see the love in the details, Anders doesn’t romanticize her condition. She is not a peaceful Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince. She is a sick woman in pain. The funeral is in another style altogether–quiet, unassuming, and a bit detached. The lines are crisp, but the body language and lack of faces feel like the aching stare from a gray fog of grief.
A book that will pull at your heartstrings and make you want to hug the ones you love, this won’t be a story for everyone. Some people might want more exposition, while others might wish for more comic panels. Any reader, though, should prepare themselves as this book does not have a magical, miraculous ending.