Stitches, by David Small. Published 2009 by W.W. Norton & Co.
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If you're into graphic novels and you haven't yet read David Small's extraordinary Stitches, now nominated for a National Book Award, you really need to.
It's his autobiographical story of his youth, growing up ill and neglected in a deeply dysfunctional family. At age eleven, he develops a lump on his neck which he is told is a sebaceous cyst; when it's removed, three and a half years later, he's left with disfiguring scars and no voice.
Stitches reads and looks like a waking nightmare; David's aren't the only scars in this family, even if they're the only ones you can see. His parents are deeply disturbed and traumatized as well, coming from families with deep mental illness and dysfunction, and his mother has a secret all her own. Towards the end of the book Small tries to make peace with his family; of course there is more to his family than what he chooses to depict here, but given that's all I have, I just wanted to cry for the mind-numbing cruelty this boy endures. The artwork brings the reader into this dreamscape with rough pen and ink sketches colored with grayscale washes; it all feels dreary, dank and hopeless; peoples' faces and bodies are exaggerated and feel overwhelming. The overall effect is to invoke a deep sense of loneliness, isolation and suffocation.
Stitches was nominated in the Young-Adult category for its National Book Award, but this isn't a book for children or younger teens. It's dark, powerful and oftentimes frightening and while it ends with a message of hope and reconciliation, it's tough going to get there. I don't know that I'd even recommend it to a newcomer to graphic novels because although it is addictive, compelling reading, it's also really quite dark but if you're a fan of serious graphic novels Stitches is a must-read.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.