Lighter Than My Shadow is a memoir of the author’s struggles and healing process with perfectionism, eating disorders, and sexual abuse. Not only is the story relevant and important for teen readers, but it also shows artistic distinction as a graphic novel.

Katie begins her story in her childhood, as the older sister in a two-parent middle class household in England. Katie was an emotionally sensitive child, diligent worker, and a reluctant eater who developed rituals to help her feel in control of her fears. Her parents appear loving, but they have their missteps, which invalidate and distance Katie. For example, when Katie runs to them concerned about monsters getting her in the dark, her parents tell her nothing is there. When she tells them about bullying at school, her dad tells her to laugh it off.

At school and at home, Katie received conflicting messages about her body. Her mom shut down her curiosity about sex and interrupted her one night as she was masturbating by knocking on the door and asking why she was being so quiet. She’s receiving another education at school, both in the hallways and in sex ed (“I’d learned that sex made you pregnant… and later that it made you a slut.”).

Meanwhile, Katie receives encouraging messages from friends about being thin and healthy, especially when she swears off all junk food for Lent. Controlling her food becomes another way of controlling her feelings, and she continues to restrict her diet, A medical professional tells her she’ll get better if she just eats more. A fainting episode eventually leads Katie to a diagnosis of anorexia and an at-home, outpatient treatment with a therapist and nutritionist. Eventually Katie returns to school, and she says, “I’m just fatter…nothing else has changed at all.”

As Katie’s parents continue to look for solutions to their daughter’s illness, they stumble upon a self-professed healer named Jake who has a tent in the woods. Jake’s answer to Katie’s issues are easy; energy healing and separation from parents should help Katie cure herself. Katie goes off to college with a newfound sense of confidence and independence, inspired by Jake. It’s Jake who treats her like a person and not an illness, and Katie severs ties with a boyfriend and with her parents to spend more time with Jake. One night at a music festival, Jake forces himself onto Katie, and Katie realizes that Jake had been molesting her during her energy healing sessions.

This realization creates a new set of nightmares, flashbacks, and eating habits for Katie, as she binges to cope with her feelings. With the help of a supportive therapist, a patient roommate, and a decision to enroll in art school, Katie begins a slow but steady healing process.

Katie uses her informal drawing style, bleak color palette, and intimate first person narration to literally take us inside her thoughts. From the early pages of the book, a black scribble comes present on the page. It grows and pools over into several panels when Katie is upset and it shrinks when she feels in control. This black scribble gives readers a sense of what it feels like to be a perfectionist: it’s an ugly, angry, uncomfortable and dark scribble, and for somebody like Katie, it represents what’s gross and deeply evil. It’s also the opposite of everything art is supposed to be.

When Katie looks into a mirror, Katie doesn’t see the character that we as readers see, instead, she sees an enlarged body part or a distortion of herself. Katie’s thoughts literally tumble with images of her body distorted in all sorts of ways. These distortions are artistically fascinating, because they are grotesque yet revealing of how Katie as an anoxeric thought about herself. For example, Katie imagines her body with the fat on her legs and arms sliced out and flapping next to her bones. The image is uncomfortable to look at, but the expression on Katie’s face seems at peace. Maybe Katie found this image of herself angelic? Another repeating image is of a wisp, presumably starved into oblivion. As a reader, I associated this wisp with death, but for Katie at the time, perhaps this wisp was like a sprite?

With both story with art, Katie Green is able to take readers on an emotional journey into her struggles and share with readers what these struggles can feel like. This book covers important ground in a touching, accessible manner and is strongly recommended for high school and public library collections.

Lighter Than My Shadow
by Katie Green
ISBN: 9780224090988
Lion Forge, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 14+

  • Amy Estersohn

    | She/Her Past Reviewer

    Amy Estersohn is a seventh grade English teacher at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY and the inheritor of a large classroom library. She has always been struck by the ability of graphic novels to convey a story that transcends written language alone. That story can be for developing readers, such as the time a five-year-old saw her reading Akira on the subway and snuggled next to her, insisting he “read” along, or it can be for proficient readers who want to explore a topic in more emotional depth, such as Don Brown’s depiction of a post-Katrina New Orleans in Drowned City. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

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