I just realized the comic books I have reviewed so far seem to revolve around troubled young boys or men. Stitches falls into the same category,  the only difference being this is a memoir.

It is difficult to imagine that this is a book by David Small, an award-winning author and illustrator or children’s book, which are typically associated with feel-good stories. That is most certainly not the case here.

The memoir focuses on Small’s dysfunctional and uncommunicative family, and how he grows up in an environment where unhappiness is expressed through various modes: the slamming of kitchen cupboard doors, the thumping of a punching bag, and  the beating of  drums. There is  almost no communication in such a family.

Small would seek refuge in his  drawing, while dealing with physical agony and internalizing the constant fear. Small eventually discovers his mother is a lesbian and that he has cancer. What is more horrific is that his mother refuses to bring him to see a doctor using lack of money as an excuse, with parties going on frequently. His parents are even able to  afford new furniture and a new car. Only after the insistence of friends does Small’s parents bring him  for a checkup. After a long delay, Small is  allowed to undergo two operations and learns about his condition when he reads his mother’s letter to his grandmother. This drives Small even deeper into the security of his own imaginative world. After seeking professional help, Small finally realizes he is right about his family all along: if they have any love for anything in this world, it’s not him.

It’s  difficult how Small survived his younger years. I was haunted by many of the scenes in the book, and pondered how the actions of adults could be so powerful as to leave lifelong scars in their children. But the book is an extremely good read. It puts into perspective many real issues. I would recommend this to those who like to explore dark themes. It’s really not a story for those who are expecting a happy-ever-after ending, and it is definitely not recommended for children. You might be interested to know, though, that this book was named “Ten Best Books of 2009” by Publisher Weekly and on Amazon.com. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2009.

Contributed by Hwee Fang