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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When you have no voice, you don't exist.", 31 Aug 2009
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Hardcover)
David Small's autobiographical novel, told through drawings, is a powerful tribute to the resilience of one boy's spirit despite every possible attempt by his family to destroy it--and him. I had never read a "graphic novel" before and had no particular expectations when I began it, so I was unprepared for the directness with which this novel engages on an emotional level while still exhibiting many of the qualities one expects in the best written fiction. David Small illustrates his dysfunctional childhood--literally showing, rather than telling about, the harsh life to which he was exposed by his rigid and withdrawn mother and his cold, mostly-absent physician father.

Throughout childhood, David sees himself as the star of an Alice-in-Wonderland existence, wrapping a yellow towel around his head, at age six, to resemble Alice as he plays, and, like Alice, accepting even the weirdest experiences--and the most bizarre family members--as part of his everyday existence. As the reader sees his disturbed mother and grandmother develop, and reads about his even more obviously disturbed great-grandparents, the visual unwinding of David's life evokes strong, emotional responses, tantamount to that of a black-and-white film. At age fourteen, he has surgery that leaves him literally speechless for months, one vocal cord excised. But he is also emotionally "speechless," unable to express his anger at his family's long-time treatment of him. His nightmares, straight out of Wonderland, are terrifying. It is not until he meets the "White Rabbit," that he begins to understand his anger and accept it as justified.

Throughout the book, Small shows a sensitivity to the needs of the story while resisting the temptation to be melodramatic--the events of his life need no such embellishment. His use of symbolism--a fetus in a jar, X-rays, Alice in Wonderland, a crucifix, a religious building, a wind-up car--broadens the scope and allows the author to tap into a common pool of knowledge to achieve greater universality. His use of foreshadowing and irony, especially regarding his illness and that of his mother (who was born with her heart on the wrong side of her body), intensifies the nightmarish qualities of the novel, and his ability to capture body language and gesture conveys feelings without requiring words.

A graphic novel such as this gains from its clear, visual depiction of events, but it also risks appearing to be so over-the-top that it resembles a comic book, rather than a serious novel. Small walks that tightrope nimbly, achieving considerable power and great emotion without descending into bathos. His chronological gap between ages sixteen and thirty, however, raises questions for the reader/viewer, since those years, skimmed over very quickly, offer an opportunity for the author to give important information about exactly how he dealt with those turbulent years. The ending, a dream, feels a bit artificial in comparison to the honesty of the narrative, but it does tie up the loose ends and connect many of the themes and motifs. David Small's Stitches has been a unique experience for me, one I recommend to anyone else who may be curious about graphic novels.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It'll have you in... no it won't, 26 Jan 2010
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Hardcover)
David Small's childhood wasn't a happy one. His mother was cold, emotionless, and brutal toward him. His father was distant and barely spoke to him. His brother was around but just barely. Nobody spoke to one another. Then we find out about their tormented inner lives. His mother was a closet homosexual while his father was numbed by the knowledge that he had given David cancer through x-rays. His grandmother was an insane person who tried to murder her husband by burning the house down and his great grandfather tried to kill himself by drinking Drano.

Due to the x-rays his father shot at him when he was born, David developed a tumour on his throat which led to cancer and after two operations left him with one vocal chord making speaking an enormous task.

Similar to Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" a few years ago, David Small's "Stitches" tells the story of a family and their secrets, of pain, of triumph and human relationships, and of hope. The drawing style reminded me of Will Eisner's - Small draws without panels and the drawings and words swirl together and spill over onto other pages.

However Small has enough of a style to call his own. The drawings in this book are incredible. Flicking back through the book there's something on every page that's extraordinary. The ones that stand out are the expressions of emotion - David finding a kind fatherly figure in a psychiatrist (depicted as the White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll's Alice books) and crying. The sequence of tears covers several pages and is beautiful. Similarly the one page depiction of a now voiceless David expressing his inner frustration toward his parents, a screaming mouth within a mouth within a mouth ad infinitum, is very powerful.

There's so much to recommend this book, the amazing art, the storytelling ability and the power of the story - if you're a fan of comics you will love this. Even if you're not a big reader of comics there's a lot here to appreciate and like. It's a tremendous achievement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!, 3 April 2012
Bucur Radu Daniel (Bucharest, Romania) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Hardcover)
There simply is no other way to say it. This book is fantastic. The drama and the way it's depicted are so subtle and yet you can almost hear the main character's words in your head.

The story is sad, it is about a troubled childhood. Yet you find the little guy fighting to get over some complicated moments in his life. And the way it's drawn is wonderful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the strongest tear-jerking books ever. A MUST READ !!!, 11 Mar 2011
This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Paperback)
I must admit right from the start that It's been taking me some time to find the right words to express what I feel about this book - but to no avail. That book had left me speechless and I still can't put into words how strong and tremendously emotional this book is.

The book is written from a child's point of view and focuses on the autor's dealing with cancer when he was a kid, But alongside with that - he describes his childhood in general. Right from the first page he depicts the atmosphere of his home, family and beyond. Through the drawings and the text we see little David, subjected to a rough life with bitter cold-hearted parents in a house in the middle of nowhere. Without anyone who ever listens to him, hugs him or even gives him a slightest sense of compassion, David is descending to being a victim of cancer - and with every page you turn you only discover it's just the tip of the iceberg. I won't reveal any of that here - but I just hope you will read that book to discover the rest yourselves.

It has never occured to me that a book can have such an impact. I've read lots of strong books that thrilled me to the bone and even got me to cry - but this one tops them all. When you look at those drawings and read about David's childhood - you just can't help wishing you could dive into the book, give David the warmest hug you can give and save him from the bleak world he lives in. It is THAT emotional - and I promise you that I'm not exaggerating.

Do yourselves a favor and add this book to your collection. One can finish reading it in less than an hour - but I assure you that this book will remain inside you for much longer!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Yet Beautiful Story, 11 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Is it a sad story? Yes, it is. However it's a beautiful as well. I suppose it will always be a very special book to me, because in his book Small talks about me. Reading this book opened an old wound I'd rather forget forever, but I'm not sorry for that. In a way, this book sets me free.

Like all memoirs, you cannot be certain which part is real and which part is the product of the author's re-imagined selective memories. However, there is one thing I can be sure really happened, and that is the dream about a little bat who mistook a broken umbrella for its mother. That always happen to all of us.

This book is about David Small as well as it is about me and about you. That's what makes it great.
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Stitches: A Memoir
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (Hardcover - 3 Nov 2009)
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