Stitches: A Memoir, By David Small



Small, D. (2010). Stitches: A memoir. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Paperback $16.95, Hardcover $27.95, 336 pages

ISBN: 978-0393068573

Author’s Website and Interviews:

 Online Reviews:

The New York Times:


Annotation: The stitches on my neck are thick and black and as I try to yell all I hear is eerie silence.

Summary: The story begins when David Small is six years old and recounts a troubling childhood in which his mother is both verbally and physically abusive. David had always been a sickly child, suffering from chronic sinus and respiratory issues which his father, a doctor, often diagnosed and treated using x-rays and radiation. When David is fourteen years old he is diagnosed with what is thought to be a sebaceous cyst on his neck that has to be surgically removed. During the operation, his thyroid and one of his vocal chords is removed leaving him unable to speak. One day after discovering a secret letter locked in a desk drawer addressed to his grandma, he learns the truth behind his diagnosis which offers him an odd sense of clarity that both frees and haunts him.

Evaluation: I really loved that the author depicted his painful childhood with raw honesty and used illustrations to capture the horrific nature of child abuse and isolation at the hands of his parents. Although most of the 300+ pages are purely illustrations, when text is used it is powerful and evokes such a strong emotional response from the reader. The “storyline” is creepy and haunting and it left me emotionally drained and pained by the plight of the narrator. The story is a memoir and every facial expression, body language, movement, and word is are expertly crafted to capture the essence of the author’s tragic childhood and the cathartic release he experiences as he becomes an adult and finally finds his voice again.

Genre: Graphic Novel (Memoir)

Appeal Factors: Character-driven, issue oriented, fast-paced, reflective,disturbing, dark, and  melancholy

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

  • A Child Called It, by Dave Pelzer
  • Blankets, by Craig Thompson
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel

Awards: New York Times Bestseller, National Book Award Finalist

Booktalk Ideas:

  • Read dialogue aloud to capture the plight of the author and put the audience and/or reader in his shoes. Using dialogue can help the audience feel more connected and intensify the reading experience. For ex. “Her silent fury was like a black tidal wave. Either you get out of the way, or…” (pg.46).

Book Discussion Questions:

  1. What don’t David’s parent’s tell him the truth about his medical condition?
  2. Does David’s father blame himself for his son’s condition? Does he seek to redeem himself in his son’s eyes?
  3. What is David’s relationship with his mother like? Were you surprised by her reaction when she finds out her mother treated David poorly?
  4. How does the author use imagination to escape his reality? What is the significance of Alice in Wonderland and the fact the his therapist is depicted as the White Rabbit?
  5. What is the significance of not speaking in the story? For both David and his parents as they too suffer from lack of speech throughout the story but not for medical reasons like their son.

I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and wanted to read more graphic novels which dealt with family dynamics in a dark and emotional way.  After reading a review of the book which states that it is a story about a painful childhood and the fact that it was an autobiography is what initially drew me in. David Small also illustrates all of the drawings in the book and I was curious to see how he portrayed his painful past and how text would factor into the book.