August 8, 2018

Book Review: Stitches by David Small


by David Small

Genres: Graphic Nonfiction/Novel, Memoir, Young Adult Literature
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.
Length: 329 pages
Published: September 8, 2009
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award and finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards: the prize-winning children’s author depicts a childhood from hell in this searing yet redemptive graphic memoir.

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 became 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. Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award (Young Adult); finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work)."


"When you have no voice, you don't exist."

Alternate cover

My Book Review:

Without a doubt, the most depressing male-authored graphic memoir I have ever read. The life of sadness and abuse David Small endured is very upsetting.

Portrayed through a grayscale graphic nonfiction/novel format, Small recounts a childhood of ongoing neglect and abuse at the hands of his parents and his older brother. At first, Small story is very quiet--the audience can quickly tell he is often on his own, quietly entertaining himself with the help of his imagination until the next violent outburst by his parents. Small's father works as a radiologist and his stay-at-home mother is distant and cruel. Small is subjected to repeated x-rays as a child, a medical technology his father feels holds the cure and answer to every disease and ailment. When a neighbor notices a growth on Small's neck and asks his parents to attend to the issue, Small undergoes a surgery without any words of comfort or guidance from his family. He awakes with a jagged scar and the complete loss of his voice. It is only years later as Small continues to survive abuse that he learns he had cancer.

While the illustrations fit the dark tone of Small's memoir, his experiences are very painful to read and see sketched out on the page. The book is marketed for young adults, but due to its content, might be better suited to new adult audiences or at least prefaced with a trigger warning.

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