Monday, January 11, 2010

"Stitches" by David Small

Summary: Small's memoir, in graphic novel form, concerns his childhood and his distant and silent parents.  At a young age, David is subjected to multiple x-rays by his radiologist father, which later cause him to develop cancer.  When the cancerous growth on his throat is finally removed, David is left with only half his vocal cords and a raspy voice.  David finally finds confidence and release through a kind therapist and his art.

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Small is especially adept at capturing the expressions of a lonely, withdrawn, and angry young boy.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.


  1. I haven't picked this one up yet, because I also have a terrible time with graphic novels. I end up reading just the text, glancing occasionally at the pictures to figure out who is talking. About the only time I take a break to really look at the pictures is when there are full page spreads without text. I actually still remember a full page image from the first graphic novel I read Daisy Kutter: The Last Train - but other than that one picture, it's only the story that I remember!

  2. Yeah, this was not the right graphic novel for me to start with. There's VERY little text, and I just couldn't get into the illustrations the way I get into text. I felt like such a cheater, skipping over the pictures quickly. The story also felt a bit disjointed to me since it covers a number of different events in the author's life; it didn't flow or draw me in like I had expected.

  3. I've seen this around but never actually read a review of it. It sounds like such a sad story! I'm curious about it now and will have a look through the next copy I see.

    I've never read a graphic novel before, but I've been thinking about purchasing Nicki Greenberg's graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby as it looks really good and I love that book :)