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Stitches: A Memoir
     

Stitches: A Memoir

3.9 30
by David Small
 

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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

Overview

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).

Editorial Reviews

This graphic memoir by Caldecott Medal-winning children's book author/illustrator David Small is singular. So singular that we will leave its description to his fellow artist, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer: "Like the boy in this autobiographical novel my first reading of Stitches left me speechless. And in awe. David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. Spare in words, painful in pictures, Small, in a style of dry menace, draws us a boy's life that you wouldn't want to live but you can't put down. From its first line four pages in, 'Mama had her little cough,' we know that we are in the hands of a master."
Michael Sims
…brilliant and heartbreaking…Although the dialogue and narration are well written and moving, Small often shows us the story without a word of speech or commentary—not just for a few panels but for several pages at a time. He employs angled shots and silent montages worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Revelations trigger haunting flashbacks in which we see an earlier scene from a new point of view. Small's drawing is masterful and evocative…think of Daniel Clowes's Ghost World or Megan Kelso's Squirrel Mother stories or Art Spiegelman's Maus. Now, to the list of powerful works of art in this versatile medium, we can add the horrific but ultimately redemptive Stitches.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children's book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence. The youngest member of a silent and unhappy family, David is subjected to repeated x-rays to monitor sinus problems. When he develops cancer as a result of this procedure, he is operated on without being told what is wrong with him. The operation results in the loss of his voice, cutting him off even further from the world around him. Small's black and white pen and ink drawings are endlessly perceptive as they portray the layering of dream and imagination onto the real-life experiences of the young boy. Small's intuitive morphing of images, as with the terrible postsurgery scar on the main character's throat that becomes a dark staircase climbed by his mother, provide deep emotional echoes. Some understanding is gained as family secrets are unearthed, but for the most part David fends for himself in a family that is uncommunicative to a truly ghastly degree. Small tells his story with haunting subtlety and power. (Sept.)
VOYA - Timothy Capehart
Caldecott winning artist Small relates the harrowing story of his childhood from ages six to sixteen under the less-than-watchful eye of his coolly distant father and his emotionally abusive mother. At six, he endures physical abuse from his deranged maternal grandmother. At eleven, as a "cyst" appears on his neck, his parents ignore his medical problems, burn his books, and focus on their own needs. At fourteen, he believes he is entering the hospital for the easy removal of the neglected "cyst," but leaves without one of his vocal folds or the ability to speak above a croak. After discovering he had cancer thanks to frequent x-rays by his radiologist father aimed at curing his sinus problems, David's attitude gets him sent to a boarding school. Later sessions with a psychiatrist only lead him to leave home before he is done with high school. Small's first title for much older audiences is sequential art at its most effective and affecting. The ink wash panels with some full-bleed illustrations expertly convey first his innocence and confusion and then his horror and anger. Although the ending offers a redemptive glimmer of forgiveness, readers may find it as difficult to take that final step as it is to put this one down before the final pages turn. This one definitely takes its place on the shelf next to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). Reviewer: Timothy Capehart
Library Journal
"Stitches" refers to the clumsy sutures on 14-year-old David's neck after a cancer operation he wasn't supposed to know was cancer—an operation that renders him mute for a long time. More subtly, "stitches" could allude to how David's family members clumsily hold together their outwardly normal but unhappy lives: dad a stiff radiologist taking refuge in the liberal application of "healing" X-rays, mother a furious, cruel force, the cranky and feisty grandmother. Amidst enforced family silence about the parents' marriage and this unexpected handicap, a psychiatrist tells David a simple truth, freeing him to find his voice in art and, later, win awards for children's picture books. In fact, it's Small's art that lifts his memoir into the extraordinary. His seemingly simple black-and-white wash captures people, emotions, relationships, and plot subtleties with grace, precision, and a flawless sense of graphic narration. VERDICT In no way the latest ho-hum episode of Dysfunctional Family Funnies, Stitches is compelling, disturbing, yet surprisingly easy to read and more than meets the high standard set by the widely praised Fun Home. With some sexual issues; highly recommended for older teens up.—M.C.
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–Small is best known for his picture-book illustration. Here he tells the decidedly grim but far from unique story of his own childhood. Many teens will identify with the rigors of growing up in a household of angry silences, selfish parents, feelings of personal weakness, and secret lives. Small shows himself to be an excellent storyteller here, developing the cast of characters as they appeared to him during this period of his life, while ending with the reminder that his parents and brother probably had very different takes on these same events. The title derives from throat surgery Small underwent at 14, which left him, for several years, literally voiceless. Both the visual and rhetorical metaphors throughout will have high appeal to teen sensibilities. The shaded artwork, composed mostly of ink washes, is both evocative and beautifully detailed. A fine example of the growing genre of graphic-novel memoirs.–Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Kirkus Reviews
Emotionally raw, artistically compelling and psychologically devastating graphic memoir of childhood trauma. An award-winning illustrator of children's books (That Book Woman, 2008, etc.), Small narrates this memoir from various perspectives of his boyhood in the 1950s. He considered his radiologist father one of the "soldiers of science, and their weapon was the X-ray . . . They were miraculous wonder rays that would cure anything." Or so it seemed to a young boy who realized early on that his family was what now would be labeled "dysfunctional." His mother was cold, neurotic and acquisitive, with little love for either her spouse or their children. His older brother had little use for or contact with his younger sibling. His father was barely a presence in the household. The author was chronically ill, with treatment prescribed by his father, including X-rays. When Small was ten, he developed a growth on his neck that his parents were too preoccupied to have diagnosed, though friends of the family urged them to. It wasn't until after he turned 14 that he finally underwent surgery for what was initially considered a harmless cyst but turned out to be a cancerous tumor. A second surgery left him with only one vocal cord, all but voiceless as well as disfigured. Terse and unsentimental throughout, the narration becomes even sparer once the author loses his voice, with page after wordless page filled with stark imagery. Yet the intensity of the artistry reveals how he has been screaming inside, with nightmares that never fully abate when he is awake. Psychological therapy helps him come to terms with his condition, as does his precocious artistry. While the existence of this suggestssomewhat of a happy ending, the reader will find forgiving and forgetting as hard as the author has. Graphic narrative at its most cathartic. Author tour to New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Mich., Kalamazoo, Mich., Boston. Agent: Holly McGhee/Pippin Properties
Jules Feiffer
“Like the boy in this autobiographical novel my first reading of Stitches left me speechless. And in awe. David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. Spare in words, painful in pictures, Small, in a style of dry menace, draws us a boy's life that you wouldn't want to live but you can't put down. From its first line four pages in, 'Mama had her little cough', we know that we are in the hands of a master.”
Robert Crumb
“David Small evokes the mad scientific world of the 1950s beautifully, a time when everyone believed that science could fix everything....Capturing body language and facial expressions subtly, Stitches becomes in Small's skillful hands a powerful story, an emotionally charged autobiography.”
Jeff Rivera - GalleyCat
“One word. Phenomenal....If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, let this be your first. I cannot say enough about this book, which will be released in September and is something to look out for. Highly Recommended. I reluctantly give this novel 5 stars; reluctantly, only because there aren’t 6 stars to give out.”
Booklist
“Starred Review. Like other 'important' graphic works it seems destined to sit beside—think no less than Maus—this is a frequently disturbing, pitch-black funny, ultimately cathartic story whose full impact can only be delivered in the comics medium, which keeps it palatable as it reinforces its appalling aspects. If there’s any fight left in the argument that comics aren’t legitimate literature, this is just the thing to enlighten the naysayers.”
Françoise Mouly
“David Small’s Stitches is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. Stitches is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels.”
Stan Lee
“Stitches is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. David Small, with his ground-breaking work, has elevated the art of the graphic novel and brought it to new creative heights.”
Ken Tucker - Entertainment Weekly
“With its mixture of stark realism and devilish fantasy, Stitches achieves a vibrant emotionalism that’s rare in both memoirs and graphic work of this kind. It’s never sentimental, but it may well move you to tears.”
Michael Sims - Washington Post Book World
“[B]rilliant and heartbreaking.... Small's drawing is masterful and evocative, from the wet-on-wet blurs of Detroit's hellish, smoky skyline, which launches the cinematic opening montage, to the carefully drawn tubes in his mother's nose as she lies dying in the hospital toward the end of the book.... Just think of Daniel Clowes's Ghost World or Megan Kelso's Squirrel Mother or Art Spiegelman's Maus. Now, to the list of powerful works of art in this versatile medium, we can add the horrific but ultimately redemptive Stitches.”
Newsweek
“A beautifully drawn, tragicomic graphic memoir about a childhood from hell.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780771081101
Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Publication date:
09/22/2009
Pages:
336

Meet the Author

David Small is the recipient of the Caldecott Medal, the Christopher Medal, and the E. B. White Award for his picture books, which include Imogene’s Antlers, The Gardener, and So, You Want to Be President? He and his wife, the writer Sarah Stewart, live in Michigan.

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Stitches 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
voyager8 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in under 2 hours and three days later I can't stop thinking about it. What this poor boy went through is more teriifying in it's unfairness alone than any horror comic. I felt shocked and angry that such selfish beings ever exisited and became parents. Mr Small is an amazing writer and artist. I have deep respect for his survival and creativity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a very good book the pictures described a lot but the words described more. Smalls really didnt have the best of luck and it shows things can always get worst but there is always somewhere you can go or something you can do to get away from things. If you have an extra hour and a half of your time you should read this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put it down. It had the hair the back of neck standing up. I wish I could my writing could be as clear and breath taking. If it is ever made into a movie. I know the rating will be "R" but it will worth it. The main character in the book made me want grab him and take him to my house.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the most dramatic books I have read. Such an easy read but very powerful. The pictures tell the story and you would even understand it even without the words. Amazing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I 'read' page after page on which not a word was written, yet I was gripped by emotion. I was new to the 'graphic' concept in literature so it came as a surprise to me to feel so many feelings...sadness, outrage, puzzlement, contempt, disbelief....as the story unfolded in this graphic memoir. That a family could be so disfunctional brought sadness. That David Small rose above it all to bring us the work that he has produced brought joy. I found that the drawings and brief words used in telling this story controlled the pace with which I read. Sometimes I rushed to read the next panels. Other times I paused to reflect. The drawings did that to me. I commend the author/artist for being able to do that so well to a reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cougar_H More than 1 year ago
short story about david small; stitches This book "sticthes" is really interesting. This book spoke to me as a human being because of all the graphics I thought was very cool. First it looked interesting, that it was going to be a since of weird, but when I first read it, it was pretty good tell I kept going then, it just got creepy. But it had a little mystery about davits parents. That would be the little author writing this book when he was a little boy. This book is funny to; I remember the part where David said he fell in love with Alice. David always thought because of her long blonde hair gave her magic powers to go to a magical place. Such as where plants talk, or cats can talk to, and having a potion to be very small. David Small said he also wanted to go to that magical place, so he put on a long yellow towel and ran outside. But mothers pull there kids away from him, because they thought he was crazy or something. Will the authors purpose of writing this book I would say that he wanted to let the people know what a horrible thing happen to David. David Small when he was little he didn't know his parents gave him cancer. David would tell how his parents acted and he also had a big brother. He said they all had a language of expressing themselves. Will like his mother she would smack the cabinet kitchen door all the time when it was really quite around the house. Then his dad had one to, his dad would come home from work and go down to the basement and punch his punching bag, to try to get over what he had done to his son. Then his brother also had one, his brother would beat his drums really loud. But last David had a language also; his language was getting sick all the time. His dad would give him medicine all the time when he had to stay in bed. One of the major theme in this book was when David found out he has cancer by looking at his moms letters, that she wrote, to her friend. He was in shocked he had that since 14 years old, and right now he is 16 years old. Now he got why his parents where so nice to him in the hospital he had to get surgery in, cause someone told him it was a growth but it wasn't. So David decides to move out at 16 years old and becomes a artist, painting, pictures, also drawing. He also found a motel, but it was all broken down. They had people in it living in there. They were couples and friends living together, in a old house. Another theme is he dreams about weird things, when that happens he wouldn't get to sleep, and he would get a little sick sometimes. Which he thought was weird. The author's attempt of writing this book is because he wanted to tell how you should be good to your parents. That you should listen to what they say. That the parents should also be good to there children, that you should be able to tell them anything. Also that you shouldn't leave when your teens. That you should stay in school and get good grades. You would want to have a successful life. Also you would want to have good parents, which would be there for you. That you should think before you do something. What I learned from this book is you shouldn't leave when you 16 or in your teens. That to obey your parents when they say and you shouldn't lie about anything. That you should be able to tell you kids no matter what it is, it's the best way to get through anything even though there hard. That anything could happen in this world with out you knowing. That you shouldn't give up what your really doin
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trinityPJC More than 1 year ago
I did not think much of Gothic Novels until I read this book and I could not put the book down and if you have not tried Gothic Novels - this is the one to read! Reality is sometimes more frightening than the illusions in life. This book is 'chilling' & 'troubling' with a 'dark side' of life in the midst of 'normal' reality. David Small has retold his story in comic theme but is no means to be taken lightly as it is a beautiful new way of telling a hard life story to others. It will be hard for David to top this book as I loved the ending/beginning! Excellent book to add to your/my library collection! Excellent - Thank you David Small!
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