Katie always had a difficult relationship with food, even when she was a little girl. She was a slow and picky eater. Soon she developed a ritual for herself, where everything had to be cut the same size, chewed a certain number of times… her parents showed no concern, as lots of children develop their own way of doing things. Her relationship with food grows worse as she enters high school. She is bullied, and she binges when she comes home upset. Everything around her is changing so rapidly, and Katie feels she has to be perfect in everything. Her feelings of inadequacy are squashed by self-control and dedication – to her schoolwork, her appearance, and starving her body to the right shape. Though she’s admitted to therapy multiple times from high school throughout college by her family and friends, Katie ultimately has to choose recovery for herself.
This is a stunning memoir. Each and every illustration was drawn by hand, in what looks to be ink. The medium is used to great effect. Katie’s negative thoughts are portrayed by dark, dense clouds of scribbles. If you look close enough, you can pick out words: mean names and feelings that her illness would call her. It makes her mental illness a real, physical character in the story as much as Katie and her family are. The most harrowing illustrations are those of a close-up of Katie in the throes of a difficult moment, the black scribbles closing in on her.
Lighter Than My Shadow is not an easy book to read. But it does give us a first-hand account into anorexia, an oft-misunderstood and deadly mental illness. It’s not always about being skinny, as Katie shows us. It can also be about the conflict of the perception of ourselves vs. others’ perceptions of us, self-control and dedication, and the quest for perfection. Ultimately, it’s a map through one person’s recovery, and a demonstration of how she chose it. I was moved to tears at her “breakthrough” moment. A brave and wonderful message of hope in the face of the darkness of your own mind.
Green, Katie. Lighter Than My Shadow. 2017.