The author recounts in graphic novel format his troubled childhood with a radiologist father who subjected him to repeated x-rays and a withholding and tormented mother, an environment he fled at the age of sixteen in the hopes of becoming an artist.
I was amazed at how much can be told through illustrations and so few words. This was my first graphic novel, and I found it to be a gripping and emotional read.
The best thing David’s parents do for him is take him to a psychologist when he’s sixteen. Finally, he starts to understand what has happened to him and that the abuse he’s suffered is not something he deserved.
This was a quick read (I read the entire book in about 45 minutes) and it’s another example of how powerful the graphic format can be. There’s something about the visual element that definitely adds to it’s impact.
Today, David is an award-winning illustrator of children’s books which seems fitting since drawing was one of his refuges as a child. As he says: “Art became my home. Not only did it give me back my voice, but art has given me everything I have wanted or needed since.”
I would guardedly recommend this book, not because of the writing or the illustrations which are excellent, but because of the subject matter. In some ways, it’s not a depressing book because David’s life took a turn for the better but it is difficult to read about his childhood.
Stitches will continue to haunt me, but for entirely different reasons.
Told almost exclusively by illustration, Small captures moments - glances, emotions, isolated confrontations - that come to define a childhood trauma that seems to define the David of the text. Portraiture becomes the most significant means of expression and storytelling, and with a simple look Small allows readers to stand in his place, and feel what he felt - most of which is downright terrifying.
Stitches is a graphic novel I will be able to read again and again. the artwork is minimalist yet captivating, and Small's storytelling abilities transports the reader to his own frightening world.
Memoirs are often written; David Small drew his. What Augusten Burroughs accomplished with thousands of words in Running with Scissors, Small also did
Raised in Detroit by a complicated mother and a radiologist for a father, David wasn't much of anything growing up; he was a kid, acted like a kid, got bullied sometimes and got scolded often. Then a lump started growing on his neck - a harmless lump that was operated on three and half years after the initial diagnosis. Only, that harmless lump caused him one of his vocal cords - and turned out not to be as harmless as he's been told.
Being an illustrator for children's books, Small's lines and ink washes are in their simplest forms, yet they carry such a weight that conveys the complications, confusions, and bleakness of his childhood. The profile sketches are beyond simple illustrations themselves - with a few strokes he's conjured facial expressions so powerful that the anger or sadness felt by the characters transcend paper and ink.
Every family is loony and dark and psychotic in its own way - such is a familiar theme with memoirists. But Small's story is far removed from the tragic, comedic, dysfunctional family saga - and with it being drawn instead of written, Stitches is a memoir subcategory in itself.
PS. Think of Alfred Hitchcock, only drawn.
Originally posted here.
"Stitches" begins with the same idea: a young boy is left alone and his imagination mixes with reality. Sadly for young David, his parents are very much alive. It's a household of bitter silences and David grows up amid his father's absences and his mother's boiling resentments, retreating into his own world with the help of his ability to draw. Several frames show him immersing himself into a drawing and down a hole where his imagined creatures wait and cheer him. Much of the story is interspersed with dreams that contain elements of his own experience and the fantasy of his favorite book, "Alice Through the Looking Glass".
Despite the comic book form of a graphic novel, not all are meant for children. "Stitches" is the biography of an unloved boy whose radiologist father treats his respiratory problems with massive doses of radiation. It's hard to believe that this was common practice at the time, as David father tells him, and not an attempt to save money by avoiding what should have been a simple operation. By the time he has surgery, the radiation has produced cancer in the boy's throat and he wakes up minus a vocal chord. In this silent household he has never been told of the cancer and his accidental discovery leads to his moving out of the family home at sixteen. Finally, his parents send him to a psychiatrist who tells him the truth ("You're mother never loved you") and helps set him on the right path.
The good news is that David went on to become a Caldecott Award winning illustrator and this book, with its spare line drawings of dour faces and angry expressions, is a departure from his children's drawings. His depiction of dreams is wonderfully graphic and when we see his psychiatrist, he is delightfully represented by Alice's rabbit, complete with vest and pocket watch. It's a harrowing story and a testament to the human spirit that this talented man was able to tell it in his own way and so well.
Over the course of the story, Small shows the reader a variety of horrors that the author faced in his own life: childhood cancer, emotionally-distant parents, mentally-unstable grandparents, and crippling depression. All of these experiences result in painful scars – both physical and emotional – that David must overcome over the course of his life. Fortunately for the reader, Small has not let his personal pain overshadow his talent with pictures and words, and Stitches is the result of his survival.
The target audience of Stitches seems to be adults – the grown-up children who remember the painful scars of their youth, but who have enough emotional distance to look back on the past without feeling overwhelmed by the pain. However, the book can just as easily speak to disenfranchised teenagers, many of whom are still in the throngs of painful adolescence experiences. Because Small’s visual style utilizes a cartoonish format, it can seem playful and childlike at times; however, Stitches is definitely more Frank Miller than Jack Kirby in its presentation. Small’s artwork is stark and unsettling, with no color added to the illustrations: in this regard, the art recalls old black and white photographs, which capture a moment in time without fleshing out the full set of emotions involved.
As far as memoirs go, Stitches is powerful and poignant, encapsulating the challenges of adolescence without falling prey to nostalgia. The book also reminds us of the power that families have over children, as David’s parents essentially paralyze his voice (literally and figuratively) until he is able to reclaim it as his own many years later. Although some readers may unwisely dismiss Stitches because it follows the graphic novel format, it is a vivid depiction of familial dysfunction that deserves to be read by adults and adolescents alike.
This autobiographical graphic novel must have been very painful for Small to relive as it was very painful for me to read. His drawings depict his childhood pain, loneliness and his agitation as well as his mother’s hatred and his father’s inattentiveness so perfectly that it becomes very emotional for the reader to be a spectator to this abuse. Thankfully, his love of art carried him through these difficult times even though his parents did not.
Would I recommend it………………………………Yes, but expect to be moved by this account.
The book moves along in stories centered around Small's history of illness and how it relates to his family. Sometimes the book flowed too quickly, leaving many places and reactions unexplored. The characters are strong, with the exception of David's brother Ted, who for some inexplicable reason is drawn like an old man in his childhood. Ted is relegated to the background while his parents, mainly his mother, dominate the foreground. David himself is a relatable, sympathetic character, dealing with his dysfunctional home life through escape in his drawings and, more hilariously, pretending to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland. The latter means of escape lend to a humerous scene that shows off Small's talent for expressing a situation without words. Dressed as Alice with a towel around his head while hanging upside-down on the monkey bars, the panel portrays a group of bullies watching him from behind a fence from Young David's perspective, upside-down. Next panel, David, on the monkey bars, looks right-side-up in surprise. Next page: the same panel of the bullies, now right-side-up, their cruel expressions now clear. Small's use of perscpective is often a brilliant way to say something without saying anything.
The art in this graphic novel is some of the most beautiful I've seen. The use of gray-toned
I thought as I read the book about what a great healing
See for yourself what you think. Not really for the faint of heart, this is tough stuff.
David Small's "Stitches" is a gloomy and harrowing memoir written as a graphic novel. The story brings us back to the author’s childhood and lets us “in a house where silence reigned and free speech was forbidden.” Although David wasn’t beaten or starved (not too often,
“Stitches” was the first graphic novel I’ve ever read. Maybe because of my limited proficiency in “reading” the pictures, at first I wasn’t too impressed. But after a great book club discussion and some background information, I was inspired to read it again more thoroughly… and I absolutely loved it!
Here are some things I loved the most:
a) The artwork in Small’s memoir is a masterpiece, well beyond the level of any comic book illustrations I ever seen. Every emotion is captured, every detail adds something to the story. A single image often tells more than can be summed up in a paragraph.
b) The whole book is very well thought-out. The images and text work in a perfect harmony, supplementing each other.
c) Transitions in “Stitches” are simply genius. The book flows like a movie.
d) Small tells us a horrifying and heartbreaking story but does so in a simple, honest and relatable way without being too sentimental or judgmental.
Even if you don’t read comics on a regular basis or steer clear of the genre altogether, give this one a try. It’s really worth a couple of hours of your life.
At six, David has sinus problems. His radiologist father treats him with X-rays, not uncommon at the time. At eleven, David has a lump on his neck. Surgery is recommended, but somehow the family puts it off for three and a half years. The aftermath of the surgery, and the series of revelations that follow are terribly sad and often horrifying.
Small's minimalist art and black and white watercolor palette help make this tale not only readable, but engaging. There are many powerful wordless sequences from a child's perspective, some true, others imaginary. Like Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home", with which this book shares more than a few similarities, the existence of the book and the ability of the artist to write it point to hope and redemption in the face of a harrowing family life.
Small came out of that childhood, alive yet scarred (physically as well as
Recommended - reminds me of The Glass Castle...
This is a powerful story, made more so by the format used to tell it. For those looking for a complicated book on family relationships and finding your own voice, I would highly recommend this book.