I loved this graphic novel memoir! Some books really call to you because of past life experiences and I could relate to the experiences in the story because I was raised by an extremely angry father myself, so while our bios were completely different, I could connect at some level.

Author David Small was raised in Detroit with a taunting older brother, a father who was a radiologist plus an angry repressed mother. Growing up in the image-conscious 1950s, David was a sickly child who tried to make the best of his dysfunctional upbringing by escaping into his art. At age eleven a growth began to grow on his neck, but his parents didn’t get him surgery for three more years until it had metastasized into cancer. They kept the fact that it was cancer from him, and after he discovered the truth he was left with additional emotional scars in addition to the physical stitches and loss of half of his vocal cords.

The mother in this book was so very unlikeable, and while Small didn’t portray his father in the same way, the fact that his father allowed the family to exist like that made him equally culpable. Such horrible undercurrents were running through that family over the years, and the choice for the parents not to tell their son he had cancer was inexcusable. Later he discovered that his mother was a lesbian and had significant health issues herself. Pair that with a toxic marriage, and it’s no surprise that David and his brother were doomed to an unhappy childhood. However, the ending showed that with proper help from a therapist and finding supportive friends, an unhappy childhood does not prevent you from a successful and happy future.

His illustrations were so well done, with the reader easily seeing the family resemblances through the generations, and his eyes/face moving between child and teen. The drawings were all in black and white, which I thought focused more on the narrative than on potentially distracting colors.  I enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland theme throughout, from him playing Alice as a child to the very obvious White Rabbit therapist analogy. Of course, I enjoyed him finding peace and a passion/vocation that would move him away from his dysfunctional family. Page 302 made me tear up, seeing him as a young adult finally receiving the affirmation he deserved.


Small, David. Stitches. 2009.