Monday, January 11, 2010
"Stitches" by David Small
Musings: Other than reading Maus as part of a freshman college seminar, this is the only graphic novel I've read. Graphic novels are still something of a mystery genre to me, but I saw Stitches reviewed somewhere (I really wish I could remember where), and I was intrigued. Last year it was also nominated for the National Book Award under "Young People's Literature" (a somewhat dubious categorization, as others have pointed out).
One of the first things that struck me was the difficulty I had reading this kind of literature. I'm naturally a fast reader, but I tried very hard to look at the pictures slowly and carefully. Some pages were entirely pictures (no text), so I especially had to refrain from racing through them. Even with that, I finished the book quickly. Making the switch from text to art was a huge challenge that I wasn't quite able to overcome, despite the detail to Small's drawings. None of this is to deride Small's work in any way, but rather a commentary on my experience with the book.
One of the things Small was most successful with was evoking a mood through his smoky black and white drawings. A feeling of dread accompanied the book, especially throughout David's early childhood. I was afraid of what would happen next, even though the book is not action-oriented. The shadows that fall across the characters' faces add an extra sense of something ominous hanging over the page and the reader.
Small is especially adept at capturing the expressions of a lonely, withdrawn, and angry young boy. Anyone who works with teenagers knows the amount of negative emotion that can be conveyed simply through a look (the most common expressions being of apathy or disgust), and the range is seen in Stitches. The ability to communicate through looks is of course a metaphor for the book itself, as David uses his art as a means of expression rather than his voice.
I'm not sure this is a book that most teenagers would appreciate or like; it lacks a traditional plot line and definable characters. I wouldn't even classify it as a book I liked, although Small's drawings are provocative and his story interesting. It's just too different for me to have a firm grasp on, but I'm glad I read it.