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David Small

A Memoir

A-StitchesIn this graphic memoir, David Small, an illustrator and a children's books writer--he has won the Caldecott Medal and the E. B. White Award for his work--recalls a childhood that might best have been forgotten.

The Topic: David Small was raised in Detroit in the 1950s--part of a middle-class family that included an abusive mother and an insane grandmother. The boy's father, a pipe-smoking, aloof radiologist, treated his son's asthma with X-rays. When David was diagnosed with throat cancer, likely the result of those ill-advised treatments, subsequent surgeries to remove the cancer left him with one vocal cord, his thyroid gone, the stitches of the memoir's title--and a host of burning questions. In postwar Middle America, none of the family's odd behavior was discussed, which left David to sift through the fallout alone. "When you have no voice," he writes of the period after his surgery when the damage to his vocal cords left him all but mute, "you don't exist."
Norton. 329 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780393068573

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"How David fights for his freedom and finds his voice, both literally and artistically, makes Stitches an engrossing story. But it is Small's talent and empathetic treatment of a child's perspective that elevate Stitches to great art." Paula L. Woods

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"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." Michael Sims

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Stitches is not a traditional written narrative, but is told through powerful pen-and-ink illustrations. With just a few lines and a splash of ink wash, he conveys much, each panel suffused with the emotions and images of childhood: the blank flash of his mother's glasses; the backs of his father's legs walking away; the cold bathroom floor where David sprawls, alone, after his grandmother deliberately scalds his hands." Laurie Hertzel

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Young readers know David Small for his award-winning children's books, but more mature audiences will want to tune in to his latest work. ... If the words here feel sometimes incomplete, even truncated, the lavishly thoughtful artwork earns Stitches a place alongside other mature graphic books of the day." Karen Sandstrom

Critical Summary

The graphic novel has been absorbed into the mainstream of literature and pop culture, and now Small's memoir finds good company among Daniel Clowes's Ghost World, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Craig Thompson's Blankets, to name a few. Drawing on what can only be described as a chaotic and, in hindsight, horribly abusive childhood, the artist uses that great pain and occasional Alice in Wonderland whimsy to transcend memory. By turns appalling, intense, moving, and inventive, Stitches speaks volumes through pictures and words. The only complaint? The portrayal of Small's mother as "an unmitigated rhymes-with-witch" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). But overall, Stitches is a must-read for anyone who loves a gripping story well told.