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Lighter Than My Shadow

Simone Lia

Katie Green

Jonathan Cape, 528pp

Katie Green's debut graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow is, unlike the title suggests, a very solid and weighty tome. So much so that I had to reluctantly abandon the idea of it being a holiday read as it wasn't at all compatible with my RyanAir luggage allowance.

Aside from the luggage allowance problem I'm very glad that Katie had the courage and generosity to share the personal story of her struggle to overcome anorexia. Her drawing style is sensitive, clear and accessible and despite the book being 500 pages it was easy to digest in one lengthy sitting. It was so easy in fact that when I started I had trouble putting it down.

The beauty of the graphic novel, and what Green has mastered so well, is that through the imagery she invites us to enter into the world that she inhabits - in this case it was herself as a teenager when the illness took a hold on her life. When she draws herself and her family at the table for dinner, there is room for us, the readers, to sit there with them. We're in the family home, feeling and experiencing the unspoken sadness and tension that lingers in the atmosphere. We feel for Katie and see that this illness is not only an illness that affects the sufferer but all of those that surround and care for that person.

We are given an insight beyond the everyday circumstances that are presented to us, and can tangibly see the mental fuzz that Green was experiencing. She graphically describes this as a small ball of scratchy lines that ominously begins to appear in the frames. It's not too pervasive at first, just a little scratchy black cloud above the head or behind the shoulder. We want to flick it away but like Katie, we can't. It's just something that is there. A lack of peace. A dark thought. A sense of hopelessness and despair. As time progresses this scratchy cloud takes on a life of its own, invading the pleasant family, surrounding and sometimes fully engulfing Katie, who is unable to see through the darkness or to think her own thoughts. She describes this when shouting out to her family 'you try and eat with a monster in your head screaming at you not to!'

Katie's road to healing was not straightforward. There are several twists and turns in the plot and my heart sank when I discovered that she encountered the ultimate betrayal by the same therapist who had been aiding her recovery. But despite this, she journeys onwards. The drawings in this beautifully told story are surprisingly gentle, quiet, clear and peaceful. I say surprisingly because the story itself is so boldly dramatic, and describes effectively the inner world of drama, turmoil and confused darkness that she experienced. Katie Green has been immensely brave in writing her graphic novel memoir, and her work delivers an emotional punch that will leave readers blown away.