David Small is an award-winning illustrator of children’s books. In Stitches, his first graphic novel, Mr. Small tells the story of his childhood. A childhood that is described on the back cover as one that “might have been imagined by Kafka.” Set in Detroit, young David is surrounded by unhappy people. His mother is constantly slamming cabinet doors, for example. When he is fourteen, he is sent to the hospital to have a “growth” removed from his neck. When he wakes up from the surgery, one of his vocal cords has been removed and he can barely speak. No one told him that he had cancer.
More and more I realize that the graphic novel is an amazing format for memoirs. So much is said in the unsaid and an expression here or there can portray an extra element to the character. It is startling to see the artwork from someone so beloved as a children’s illustrator suddenly injected with venom. Make no mistake these characters are not lovable. They exude emotion whether they are angry, desperate or down-right mean. This book is devastatingly heartbreaking. I wanted so much to erase what had happened to young David and to shield him from the hatred in his mother’s eyes. The last section of the book literally sent chills up my spine. Mr. Small must be a remarkably strong individual. This is a story that is not easily forgotten.
Published by W.W. Norton, Stitches will be available this September.