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Richie's Picks: STITCHES: A MEMOIR by  David Small, W.W. Norton & Co., 
September 2009, 344p., ISBN:  978-0-393-06857-3
"Oh, your daddy, he's the iron man
Battleship wrecked on dry land
Your mama, she's a bitter bride, she'll never be  satisfied
Do you know?  And that's not right."
-- Natalie Merchant, "Life is Sweet"
"Around that time Dad must have gotten a promotion or a  raise.  The lump 
in my neck had to wait while he took mother on a shopping  spree."
In an email this morning, a student in my Picture Books for  Older Readers 
class expressed gratitude that her participation in  the course had 
necessitated her reading graphic novels for the first time  ever.  She explained 
that she'd come into the class thinking that  graphic novels were only for 
reluctant readers.  Now, she says, "I am blown away by the amount of talent, 
insight and emotional resonance  some graphic novels have."    
My response to her was this:
"If you want to see a graphic novel that does it all, contact  W.W. Norton 
and figure out some kind of story to tell them about the class so  that they 
will send you an advance reading copy of STITCHES: A  MEMOIR by David 
Small.  I am writing it up this morning and it is the  best graphic novel I have 
read in 6 years."
In fact, David Small's STITCHES: A MEMOIR is the most  moving tale written 
in graphic novel format that  I've encountered since being totally wowed by 
Craig Thompson's  BLANKETS back in my years on Best Books for Young Adults.  
Between the spare text and the 1,400+ illustrations  through which David 
Small tells the story of a nightmarish  childhood and his eventual escape from 
his parents and his demons, STITCHES is a  landmark work of literature for 
young adults that is destined for core  collection status.
David Small grew up in Detroit with parents  who usually treated him as if 
he were either invisible or a nuisance.   He coped by turning to art and 
escaping into books.  
As a child, David was frequently sick.  As he describes  it:
"I was born anxious and angry.  My sinuses  and digestive system didn't 
work as they should have."
His father, a radiologist, administered many a series of  high-dosage 
x-rays that were supposed to alleviate  David's sinus  problems.  By age eleven, 
a growth became visible on his  neck.  Even while his parents were buying 
expensive new automobiles  and home furnishings, and despite the fact that his 
father worked in the  medical field, David's mother would attack David for 
saying anything  about having the growth taken care of.  
Finally, after three and a half years, he was sent in for  surgery to have 
the growth on his neck removed.  It turned out to  be cancerous, requiring 
radical surgery that included the removal of his  thyroid gland and one of 
his two vocal cords.  David was literally  silenced.
"A crusted black track of stitches, my smooth young throat  slashed and 
laced back up like a bloody boot."
And so it is so fitting that Small's memoir regularly  moves into wordless 
segments in which the beloved Caldecott  Medal-winning illustrator lets his 
artwork do the talking.  That  artwork is composed entirely in black, white 
and all shades  of gray.  I love how I came to intimately know of Detroit in 
 the nineteen fifties.  I also love how Small does perspective in a  
fashion that you, as well as young David, are repeatedly looking upward  toward 
the zombie-like adults in his life. 
"With only one vocal cord the sound you make  is...ACK."  
My student wrote of being blown away by talent, insight  and emotional 
resonance in great graphic novels.  If you want  to experience an ultimate 
example of such qualities in a  soon-to-be-heralded graphic novel, then you 
definitely need STITCHES.  

Richie  Partington, MLIS
Instructor,  San Jose State University
School of  Library and Information Science
Richie's Picks 
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