Stitches is the graphic representation of illustrator David Small’s life from six years old to adulthood. Small’s first appearance in the book is his six-year-old self drawing on the living room floor. The shadow of his mother looms in the kitchen, introducing the first of many distinctive characters, including Small’s father and brother.
His relatives, the only main characters in the story besides Small, create emotional scenery. Small’s mother is described as having “furious, silent withdrawals” which frightened Small as a young boy. David’s father, a radiologist, is overbearing and unsympathetic toward his son’s pain. His brother plays drums to escape home life. As a result of these, and many other, dysfunctional relatives, the terrors of Small’s personal life begin to create nightmarish visions which overtake his reality. At age eleven, David is diagnosed with a cyst, which, left untreated for three years, turned into cancer. The surgical removal of one of his vocal cords prevents him from speaking and leaves his neck covered in stitches.
The book is chiefly artwork, but the story is both observed and read. Every emotion Small experiences is appreciably presented in his artwork. Small gives priority to his own emotional impressions, tying the narrative down with some well-placed words. Even these he uses to artistic effect: balloons full of harsh sentences spoken by his father seem to crush David within a single panel. Small’s treatment of perspective throughout the book conveys that David is insignificant and his feelings are unimportant in the eyes of others. The use of monochromatic panels emphasizes his isolation.
The book is in chronological order, with gaps in Small’s life depicted by a text-only, introductory page. These do not interfere with the pacing, which proficiently creates anticipation. Due to its skillful layouts and captivating content, Stitches is a notable and engaging read.
If you liked Stitches, try:
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Wall by Peter Sís
For something a LITTLE different, try:
Escape from “Special” by Miss Lasko-Gross
For something REALLY different, try:
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Review by Carlen