Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir, Nonfiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “One day, David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die. In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children’s illustrator and author, re-creates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama where David – a highly anxious yet supremely talented child – all too often becomes the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage. Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden. Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that turn nightmare into fairy tale, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child to cancer patient, to the troubled teen whose risky decision to run away from home at sixteen – with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist – will resonate as the ultimate survival statement. A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.”
Review: I decided to read Stitches after my labmate, Ana, recommended it. Her praise of the book largely stemmed from the excellent drawings, and I certainly can’t argue with her there. Prior to reading this book, I was unfamiliar with David Small’s work. But having now experienced his artistic talent, I’m eager to see how my two young nieces feel about his picture books (and we have 25 to choose from!).
However, Stitches is definitely more suited to mature readers, given how intense some of the content is. It’s no small feat that David was able to survive his dysfunctional family, complete with a frigid mother, perpetually angry father, and psychotic grandmother. I had thought (or perhaps hoped) that Stitches was not a true memoir; after all, what kind of parents don’t tell their child they have cancer until years later? But what becomes clear from the very beginning of Stitches is that David’s art was his sanctuary and escape. Through art, he was able to survive an incredibly challenging upbringing.
Altogether, I think Stitches is a really fascinating graphical memoir. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about graphic novels as a whole, which is why I rated this one three out of five stars. But for those looking to give graphic novels a chance, this is a great one to start with.