I am the first to admit that I am a newcomer to the graphic novel format. In fact, I read my first graphic novel only a couple of months ago – Will Eisner’s The Name of the Game – and it completely blew me away. I was still unprepared for the emotional battering of David Small’s graphic memoir, Stitches: A Memoir.
David Small started his illustration career on The New Yorker, Esquire and Playboy magazines. He is best known as a children’s book author and illustrator and has won the Caldecott Medal more than once. Small started drawing when he was two years old, and spent much of his childhood, which was plagued by illness, disappearing into his own world of illustration and imagination.
Stitches starts in Detroit in the early 50s with Small the passive observer of an increasingly dysfunctional family. What follows is a descent into illness and a kind of madness, as his trust in all who should have protected him is increasingly betrayed.
This is definitely Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors territory.
Yes, it is a shocking story of parental abuse, and yes, there is redemption at the end. But I was absolutely drawn in from the very first page of this stunning memoir, and I can’t imagine how a book that purely relied on words could do it justice. From the scarlet imprint of lipstick on Mrs Dillon’s filter-tipped cigarettes to the vulnerability of David upside down on the monkey bars wearing his favourite Alice in Wonderland head scarf, this is a haunting, visual memoir whose visceral impact goes much further than words. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Now I know my comments about the power of the graphic novel will be greeted with howls of derision by long term aficionados (tell them something they don’t know) but be that as it may, I can but fess up to my embarrassingly late discovery of the genre. I’ve been sitting on this review for several months, waiting for the book to be easily available in Australia. How serendipitous then that it has just been nominated as one of the five finalists for young people’s literature in the American 2009 National Book Awards.
Meanwhile, look and learn here.