Catherine Pioli’s medical graphic memoir Down to the Bone: A Leukemia Story will make you cry. Much like Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych,” you already know how the story ends before even turning the first page. Pioli, an illustrator and graphic designer, chronicles her journey from the diagnosis of acute leukemia to her metaphorical last breath – a touching scene where her partner leans over her in bed with a worried look but is relieved, when Catherine snores loudly, to realize she is still alive. The next two pages are blank except for the text: “Catherine drew her last breath on July 31, 2017.” Niagara Falls – because readers cannot help but follow her hope with each new diagnosis, each technical nuance explained, and drawings of cute plump little characters: red and white blood cells, platelets, stem cells, and those blasted blasts. Her self-characterizations express her range of attitudes and emotions through various stages: stubbornness, physical illness, exhaustion, not-telling-the-whole-truths to protect other’s (as well as her own) sense of hope. The lack of frames captures the lost sense of time throughout, one event melding into another. Backgrounds are simple line sketches with color on main characters and objects, the overwhelming white space a constant presence of the sterile medical environment. There is humor but far more humanity in Pioli’s story about a ‘rare’ cancer, but one that takes away a beautiful life and leaves sorrow in its wake. Pioli’s book helps touch this sweet spot in us all while educating readers about cancer and how they can help.
Down to the Bone by Catherine Piolini. graphic mundi, December 2022.
Reviewer bio: Denise Hill is Editor of NewPages.com and reviews books she chooses based on her own personal interests.