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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Blog No. 47 - Stitches by David Small

GENRE: GRAPHIC NOVEL (Autobiography)

Title: Stitches
Author: David Small

Bibliographic Information:
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 8, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393068579
ISBN-13: 978-0393068573

Publishers Weekly Top Ten Best Book of the Year
Amazon.com Top Ten Best Book of 2009
Washington Post Book World’s Ten Best Book of the Year
California Literary Review Best Book of 2009
L.A. Times Top 25 Non-Fiction Books of 2009
NPR Best Book of the Year, Best Memoir

Reader’s Annotation:
David Small was a quiet, artistic boy in a tumultuous family—his father, a physician, hit punching bags in the basement, his mother, a tightwad who only cared about her own needs slammed cupboards when she didn’t get her way, his brother, who is barely mentioned, banged on drums to beat out his frustrations, and David, who drew—very quietly. When he gets cancer and everyone keeps it from him, he loses his speaking voice, and has to learn to express himself in different and meaningful ways.

Plot Summary:
Through the artist’s own perfect language, drawing, David Small takes us on a graphic novel journey through his frightening, fragile and unforgettable life from the age of six through the age of sixteen. He grew up a sickly child in Detroit amid the pollution of the Motor City, and developed severe sinus problems for which his physician-father—an osteopath—prescribed medicine, shots, enemas and radiation. Despite the fact that his father was a doctor, medical treatment beyond what his father could give was withheld, because his stingy mother wouldn’t allow it. When he was eleven the family held a cocktail party, and Mrs. Dillon, a sophisticated woman and wife of a surgeon (on whom David had a little crush) noticed a lump on the side of his neck and told his mother that it should be looked at. Three years later, his mother finally took him to the doctor and he had to have surgery. They didn’t tell him he had cancer, so he endured two operations—and lost part of his throat and one of his vocal chords. Now the silence he had practices as a child trying to survive in a dysfunctional family became a silence that was no longer negotiable. This memoir takes us through the sixteenth year of David’s life when he does some drastic things—and finally takes his live into his own hands—literally—and embraces art for the first time as something that he not only can do—but must do.

Critical Evaluation
This book is what all graphic novels should be—clear, poignant and character-driven—with only enough dialogue thrown in logically on the page to be clearly readable and to get the point across. From a storytelling point of view, the book is richly horrifying, profoundly sad, and wonderfully but darkly hopeful, reminding me of a cross between a Roald Dahl book, a Charlie Chaplin silent film, a scary Bradbury story called “The Jar” and some of the weird tales from Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Small lived in the 1950s, a time when government propaganda documentaries abut the bomb told us how wonderful the world was when it really wasn’t.

This is not a book that looks at childhood as a happy time. It is downright frightening and full of truth that is stranger than fiction. Yet it is at times humorous and shockingly raw. As a child in the story, Small talks about loving Alice in Wonderland. Years later, when being psychoanalyzed, he sees his doctor as a large white rabbit. He talks about his dreams, which are very vivid, and he depicts them in the book in all their glorious insanity.

I cannot think of an American novel that better depicts the false sense of security placed upon Midwesterners during the 1950s than this novel. It is must reading for all who love graphic novels—and especially for those who don’t. This is a graphic novel that stands out among graphic novels. It is a good read. Period.

Reading level/Interest Age:
This book is recommended for an older YA audience, but is perfect for an adult audience too. Anyone who struggles with meaning in life can benefit from reading about the nightmarish life of David Small, and can gain strength, as he did, by understanding that “raising” your own voice is the key to undermining the demons, and finding happiness and success in life. A gritty and scary, yet uplifting book for everyone.

Information about the Author:
David Small grew up in Detroit, Michigan to an osteopathic doctor and a closeted lesbian mother who loved to slam cupboards. David always loved to draw, and used his artistic talent to help him through a very sickly childhood.

Small is a popular illustrator of more than 50 children’s books, including seven he also wrote. Those seven are somewhat dark, although very different in tone from his memoir. For example, one called Imogene’s Antlers is the story of a little girl wakes up one day and finds antlers growing out of her head.

Small began his illustration career as an “editorial Artist” for various publications such as The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He illustrated several books for children and won many awards for his work, such as the Caldecott in 2001. His wife, Sarah, is also a children’s book writer. They live in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Curriculum Ties:

A great book for a philosophy class, about the idea of voice, where it comes from and how easily it can be lost. This is also a great book for a psychology class, where students can easily visualize how parental dysfunction becomes an issue for their offspring.

Booktalking Ideas:

You’ve lost your voice—literally and figuratively—due to cancer and weird parents. You become a successful artist, win awards, but still feel something missing, so you tell your own story, which is stranger than nay fiction you could have written. That’s what David Small did to get his voice back. Read it and see why!

Challenge Issues:

None. But this book makes us realize that some people’s parenting skills should be challenged…

Why I Included This Book:
I wanted to include a graphic novel that I actually enjoyed…

Cover image courtesy of

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