BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

StitchesApparently the big book controversy this week (besides the Wal-Mart $10 vs. Amazon $9 pre-order pricing war) is David Small‘s 2009 National Book Award nomination in the Young People’s Literature category for his graphic memoir, Stitches. YA or not YA, that is the question … so, of course, I had the perfect excuse to order the book (thank goodness for Amazon Prime!) and see what the hubbub is all about.

More confessions: the book was so absorbing that I missed the majority of my daughter’s first-ever 1000-meter freestyle event at her first swimming competition of the new season (she came in second – and BAD Mommy, I know). But would I give Stitches to that said daughter, age 13, to read? Nope, probably not yet … but definitely, eventually yes!

NBA nominations come from the publishers. Neither authors nor judges have any say in the category designation. Small, who has written and/or illustrated some 50 children’s books, said in an interview for a recent article in Publishers Weekly that he thought he was “stepping out of the children’s book world” when he wrote Stitches. He’s still “please[d]” by the crossover, and continues in the PW piece, “‘There were things I refrained from talking about, knowing that the book might fall into the hands of kids,’ he said. For example, he did not talk about masturbating. ‘I’m not saying that I’m a fuddy-duddy, but I think it was unnecessary in this case to be that candid about my entire adolescent life. It had nothing to do with the arc of the story I was telling … There’s an urge to confess everything. It’s sort of cleansing, until you realize it’s sort of pointless.'”

Nothing is pointless about this heartbreaking tale of parenting gone awry, and a child surviving and somehow thriving in such a complicated, detached, and ultimately dangerous environment. Small does a spectacular job capturing the expressions of his young self as a neglected and lonely child. He remembers doing exactly what he’s not supposed to (check out his mischievously nervous expression on the forbidden elevator), his “mad crush on Mrs. Dillon” as he holds her mink coat and breathes in her “almost supernatural glamour and sophistication,” his groggily trusting face just before he’s anaesthetically swirled into oblivion for his second throat surgery, his bewildered shock when his father confesses that he gave his son cancer.

Without a hint of self-pity, Small shares his young life as he lived it. And lest we readers make monsters of his parents, his final three pages before the parting acknowledgements gently humanize his family – especially his long-suffering mother. Certainly adults and younger readers will appreciate the book on different levels – possibly vastly divergent levels. But don’t let labels or categories be too much of a barrier. Parents, you know your children best … share it when they’re ready, but do share it for sure.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2009


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