Book Review: Stitches

Stitches by David Small
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Literary Awards: Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee (2011),Michigan Notable Book (2010), ALA Alex Award (2010), National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2009),Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction & Graphic Novel (2009)
ISBN 0393068579
329 pages
Goodreads, Books Depository

Certain tragedies accompany you as would a favorite toy. Memories that were supposed to be sweet and endearing contort to become garbled versions of nightmares you desperately want to forget. These images entrench themselves deeply into the recesses of your mind, haunting and chiding you for every step. Some of us are lucky enough to have few of such monsters, others are cursed to live with them for the rest of their lives.

Your voice is not meant for talking about issues. Your hands are. Open your mouth only when you really need to, and that’s during happier times or when to shout at your children. Vent your anger at the children who bear no fault over your adult choices and never express a single word of affirmation for them. Let them know that you view life as nothing but a bleak landscape, and their existence adds no color to your already dreary life.

Repress your feelings. Everyone in David’s family does it. Nobody talks about things that sadden, confuse, or anger them. Not even when one of the children has cancer that was a result of a father’s experimental x-ray treatments. Truth, like a sacred artifact meant for the Louvre, is placed behind layers of tempered glass, awaiting the day to never be unearthed. That, coupled with first hand experiences of insanity and a mother’s secret double life, makes up David’s childhood.

The pain and mental anguish in Stitches makes any sane person want to draw a hole and bury themselves in it, yet never has a graphic novel utilized the comic medium so well.

Gray watercolor bathed the grim enigma of a traumatized and confused childhood. Silence swashed pages of monotone panels where conversations were exchanged through the raise of an eyebrow, or the squint of an eye. As Small put it perfectly, “If you don’t have a voice, you don’t exist”. Much of the happenings were composed by Small’s internalization of events. Much like an out of body experience, Small recounts them as if he was an outsider to his mother’s lack of concern, his father’s perpetual absence, and his cancer, not in the sense that these don’t concern him, but rather that they’re so morbid and strange that it’s as if they’re happening to somebody else.

The loneliness of Small’s childhood and subsequent adulthood takes on a macabre tone, where the people around him all seem to wear thick rectangular lenses that hide their eyes, and all of them look the same, even the lovely caring nurse who was meant to be “a family” to little David. Perhaps the only person David can relate to is the psychiatrist, a kind albeit brutally honest person. Yet, he’s the White Rabbit, always looking at the time and ending sessions not a second later, for he’s just doing his job and nothing more, no matter how much David has begin to grow on him.

Overall, Stitches was phenomenal. It might remind people of the hopelessness of the 50s, but in truth, all the sufferings of dysfunctional families look like the 50s to their unfortunate members. Despondence grows a life of its own and sucks you in, and makes you think about how crucial and formative childhood really is. What is family, and what is blood? Those things obviously mean little to anyone whose family’s falling apart at the seams. At the end of the day, Stitches is strangely comforting to those who come from similar backgrounds, where the people who should love them don’t, and they are forced to make sense of the mess themselves. There is still salvation, and that salvation is your passion. As long as you live, live your passion, and though bad memories can’t be erased, they can be prevented from growing in the future, if we can only save ourselves. All is not lost.

Rating: 6/5. 

Have you read Stitches? What about Small’s other works? I’d love to know in the comments below. 

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