Stitches: A Memoir By David Small

Reviewed by Kari Tanaka

Graphica is gaining a firm foothold in the literary world and is becoming a very popular form for authors and/or artists to pen their memoirs. Whether you are new to the form or have devoured a multitude of graphic titles, David Small’s Stitches is one of those rare gems that you will savour page by page and then proceed to recommend to anyone who will listen! David Small is perhaps best known for his work as a children’s book illustrator and has won several prestigious awards, including the Caldecott Medal, to recognize his talents.

The pen and ink artwork in Stitches is evocative of the whimsical, and often comical, work found in his picture books. However, in this case, he uses the technique to illustrate his own dark and very personal memories of growing up. Frame by detailed frame, David’s childhood is revealed to us. A sickly six-year-old David is certainly not the family favourite. The victim of an abusive mother, brother and grandmother, and a father who is too distant to care, he is forced to suffer his physical and emotional ailments alone. Plagued by nightmares fraught with x-ray images from the offices of his radiologist father, David is not told, nor does he understand, the root cause of his illnesses. In silence, he does what he is told, enduring treatment after treatment by his father to cure his sinus problems with “miraculous wonder rays that would cure anything.” At fourteen he undergoes a routine surgery to remove a cyst in his throat. This leaves him horribly scarred and unable to speak, and he later learns that the cyst was actually a cancerous tumour, likely caused by his father’s treatments.

Betrayed by his family, David enters a downward spiral, skipping school, getting arrested, running away from an all-boys school several times, and experiencing exponentially more terrifying nightmares. On the advice of the school, he eventually returns home to receive psychiatric care, at which point he begins to understand himself and his family members from an entirely new perspective. I urge you to take the time to absorb each and every frame of this memoir. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and David’s pictures are, in my opinion, worth more than that. I was moved to tears on several occasions throughout this book, especially during scenes that depicted the gentler, maternal characteristics of an otherwise cold-hearted mother. The nightmare sequences are intensely powerful, pulling you deep into the horror and confusion that David felt as a child. A picture in Stitches is worth a thousand emotions, the impact of which would have been severely crippled had this memoir been written in any other form.