Cover of "Stitches: A Memoir"

Cover of Stitches: A Memoir

By Mandy Webster

Stitches: A Memoir. David Small. W.W. Norton & Company, 2009, 2010.

In this graphic novel, Stitches: A Memoir, David Small tells the story of his dysfunctional formative years when art first became his escape from real life.

“I was six.”


This simple beginning, coupled with Small’s stark black and white illustrations of his own childhood neighborhood quickly sets the reader in time and place. Small’s images expertly describe the dysfunction of a family headed by a detached doctor with a God complex and an angry closet lesbian.

As a child, the main character, David is a sickly boy whose father treats his asthma and constant (yet minor) sinus issues with large doses of radiation. As David grows up, he develops a growth on his neck which his parents seem to ignore for years before finally having it thoroughly checked out.

David undergoes surgery for what his parents tell him is a simple cyst removal and wakes up to find he has lost his thyroid gland and a vocal chord. Plus his voice. It is only by accident that David later finds the true purpose of his surgery was to remove his cancer.

I was struck by the irony of David’s father smoking like a chimney while informing his son that it was his radiation treatments that likely caused David’s cancer. And, David’s mother seems almost angry that he has survived. Throughout the ordeal, he struggles with depression and possibly other mental illness, which apparently runs in his mother’s family. He eventually begins to see a therapist, who is depicted as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. (David’s early obsession with playing Alice also lead me to question his sexuality. However, this was cleared up with a bit of research.)

If you’re into the graphic novel, I would definitely recommend this one. Small’s artwork sets the tone for a memoir with sparse language and great feeling. Personally, I don’t think I am visual enough to ever really get into reading graphic novels (I’m far too addicted to words,) but I can be open minded enough to admit when I’ve read a good one.

Stitches is a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the American Library Association‘s ALEX Award.

Amanda L. Webster