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Stitches: A Memoir
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91 of 95 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 27, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First, I know nothing about this author. According to his biography information on Amazon and the back of his book, he is an award winning childrens author. In some ways, knowing nothing about the author makes this graphic novel even more enjoyable. Second, I need to break this down into two reviews--the story and the art. Both are excellent! The story revolves around David Small from the age of 6 to adulthood. He comes from an interesting family--his mother and her side of the family is explored in depth. David develops a growth on his neck, which turns out to be cancer. However, his family does not tell him this, which is just one of the sources of conflict between him and his parents. I really enjoyed how the story was told. You can really feel the struggles David goes through growing up within this family. And in some ways, his mother reminds me of my grandma (in terms of the value of money and weighing the cost of something against something else). I also like how imaginative David (the character in the book) can be, and you see that throughout the story (like his admiration for Alice in Wonderland, which appears again towards the end of the story) In the end, the story has a great moral lesson--your voice is more than the words that come out of your mouth. It is also your actions, what you do and how you do them, that speak for you. That is a great message to learn from a book about a child growing up.

The art is black, white, and gray, and in this story, it works perfectly. Some of the best frames in the book are when the author uses a direct light source on his character. For example, when David is in an elevator, and the doors open and close, he creates a fantastic effect by using this lighting technique. It happens a few times in the story, and it is definitely worth stopping to study the frame and look at the detail.

Finally, I believe that this story could only be told in this way. It just would not have been as effective if it was told in a traditional book. You need the art, combined with the story, David's imagination and the writer's control of his words to get everything you see in front of you. It just works as a graphic novel, telling the story of his own memories. I read the entire graphic novel in about 45 minutes. I now think that was too fast, and I plan to go back and read it again. I highly recommend this book for its great story and art work, even if you know nothing about the author. By the time you are done reading, you will feel like you know him personally.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )Verified Purchase
Do not let the fact that this is a graphic novel turn you off. It's not comic book/Watchman type art, this is pen and ink drawings.

This is a complete story, and, I'm not exaggerating, this is one of the best autobiographies I've ever read. Most of it is told unflinchingly from the standpoint of David Small as a child, starting at age 6. His was not a happy household and the story includes a grandma, who, at one point, descends into physical abuse. I had, up to that point in the story, no sympathy with Small's mother. If she protected him from that point on from his grandmother, it isn't told. But her reaction when David said he was afraid of his grandma, because she was crazy, made me sit up and acknowledge something - David's mother's coldness didn't just spring out of nothing. There was something or somethings that helped shaped her that way.

Near the end of the story, we learn that there was more than one thing that shaped her unhappiness. David acknowledges on the last pages, his later "maturity, reflection and some family research" helps him at least understand his mother.

It's not an excuse for not loving your own son, but it helps. It's not an excuse for his father enabling his mother, either. But read the story and make up your own mind. There is no whining; there is no using the past as a crutch. The story starts, I think, in the 50's, and medical knowledge and sociological acceptance were much different than they are now. Notice, I'm trying not to give too much away - I don't want to spoil it for you when you pick up this book.

Finally, I'd like to mention that David's imagination, which oftentimes plagued him as a child, also allowed him to write and illustrate this memoir, which may have been cathartic. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the "Stitches" did not result from abuse. At least, not the stitches in his body.

Much recommended.

Happy Reader
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2009
I loved this book! It is so moving, and to think that David Small can write AND draw about his sad, tormented childhood is miraculous. I kept turning to the photo of the author on the back flap just to see his sweet smiling face, and be reassured as I read that he was going to be okay. I can barely stand to learn about child and/or animal abuse, and this is, of course, abuse in the extreme. The text is poetic and the drawings once again prove that "a picture is worth a thousand words" as they bring this family to life.

David Small has illustrated several children's books, my favorite being THE LIBRARY written by his wife. I have no children at home, but I bought the book for myself because of the story of a voracious reader and book-buyer like myself as well as for the sweet, spot-on illustrations.

I learned about SITCHES in Publishers Weekly which I have subscribed to for several years. I am not going to renew my subscription, however, because the $200+ annual subscription cost is just too much for a journal/magazine that is shrinking in size rapidly and will probably disappear itself before too much longer. BUT, I did read about this book there, as well as several other fabulous books over the years, so I am going to have to find another source for book reviews; Amazon is doing a good job, but way too few reviews, not to mention having to steer my way through all the ads to find them.

I do hope, however, that lots of people find and read this book. It gives hope. It shows that graphic books are to be taken seriously and are here to stay in all sorts of genres, not just "graphic novels". There are a couple other "graphic memoirs" recently published, and to me they are all delightful and a nice change in a publishing culture that has become stagnant in many ways. Thank you to David Small for sharing his story with us, for making us SEE what he went through. I am so sorry it happened, but happen it did, so thanks for trusting us with it.
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48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this book, David Small "depicts a childhood from hell in this redemptive graphic memoir" to quote from the back cover. I think "cathartic" would be a more appropriate word than "redemptive", but otherwise that sums up this autobiographical work nicely. The book is undeniably powerful, skillfully written, and drawn with great sensitivity.

But nevertheless I found myself left somewhat cold by the book. Yes, the childhood Small depicts undoubtedly qualifies as "from hell", with an angry, withholding, emotionally abusive mother, a distant father, and an operation for throat cancer that left him scarred and unable to speak for several months. But through all his travails, the boy typically reacts with a hard, narrow-eyed glare. At the age of fifteen he's sent to a psychiatrist (charmingly drawn as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland) whom Small credits with giving him his first experience of something like parental love. But I got the feeling that Small would have done okay without any magical therapist. That skeptical, hard-eyed stare would have seen him through any amount of emotional abuse.

And in my opinion, that hard-eyed anger is the shortcoming of the book. Small's reminiscences are one-dimensional; there's almost nothing in the book beyond an angry stare back at the memory of his mother. I got the impression of an angry, humorless and self-obsessed little boy who grew up to draw an angry, humorless and self-obsessed autobiography. Creating it may have been a healthy therapeutic exercise for Small, but that doesn't make it a great book.

Superficially, Small's book has much in common with Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, but I feel that "Fun Home" comes out far ahead in the comparison. Bechdel's characters are complex, three dimensional people, and her memory carries a far broader range of feelings than Small's, making for a richer and more rewarding autobiographical memoir.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 17, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Stitches: A Memoir, is exactly what it purports to be. It is a memoir of the early life of artist David Small. And what a painful, emotionally scarring life it must have been. Small recounts a difficult childhood devoid of love, burdened by distracted and distant parents, and punctuated by a childhood cancer caused by his own father.

Alas, then, that Stitches doesn't quite hit the emotional buttons a story like this deserves to hit, because I *wanted* to feel drawn into this bleak (yet all too real) world more than I did.

This was certainly no fault of Small's grasp of the medium, which is excellent. His art has a loose simplicity about it, at times even a seeming sloppiness (undoubtedly deliberate), that is stark and vivid and entirely appropriate. His storytelling, which is so vital in the world of sequential art, is crisp and clear, and his compositions make excellent use of the page. Artistically, Stitches is a triumph.

The tale itself is unrelentingly bleak, with only a small glimmer of love late in the story of Small's early life. That's okay, though. It's not as if the reader doesn't know what he or she is in store for. We know we're about to be depressed.

Where Stitches falls just short of complete excellence is in the writing. While the art is simple and stylish in an impressionistic way, the writing is just simple, made up of direct, bare narration and equally direct dialogue. It often works well enough for the dialogue -- witness the mother's outburst on 226 and 277, which painfully underscores her loveless nature -- but the narration does little to add to the overall work. As a medium, comics excels when the words and images combine into a greater whole. In the best comics, theirs is a symbiotic relationship. That doesn't happen here. The narration feels almost superfluous, and thus distracting. Yet removing it would make Stitches an even lighter read than it already is. (Its 320 pages whip by FAST, even with a reader like me, who lingers on and absorbs each panel.)

The result? A reader kept at an emotional distance from the story.

However, Small makes excellent choices when it comes to allowing the visuals to tell the story, and he knows when to allow the imagery to get abstract. His instincts here are superb. Small's outstanding skills in this regard work hard to carry the weight of the emotional narrative here, and make up for any shortcomings in the writing.

I know many Amazon readers consider 3 stars a bad score, but let me be clear: It's not. Not to me. As far as I'm concerned, if you enjoy graphic literature and like memoirs, if you enjoy the genre in which Stitches dwells, it's worth a read. Small's visual work is impressive and the narrative has the potential to be powerful to certain readers. I may feel Stitches falls just short of its potential -- and it does -- but I'm glad to have read it.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2009
For fans of David Small's great illustrations (childrens' books, the New Yorker) this book is long overdue and undeniably seductive. Small's intriguing point of view, his genius use of black ink, and his deftly sardonic references are in full form here. His brave and honest telling of a challenging childhood will surely serve to endear his many childrens' book fans. What a treat to be able to wallow in a full-length David Small odyssey. Stop reading this review and go order your copies now. Great holiday gifts for the angry young men, relieved older men, fans of Detroit and anyone else you know.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
David Small has written a masterful "memoir" in the graphic novel medium, the story of his dysfunctional upbringing in Detroit. I cannot adequately express what a work of genius "Stitches" is. David Small has created a masterpiece of art and story that despite being extremely personal has universal appeal. Like all great autobiographical work, his life experience is unique, yet will reach a wide variety of readers due to its universality. The level of realism and detail is subtle, astounding and moving.

At points, the story is shocking - his travails had me literally gasping out loud at points. It is told through the prism of a young boy's eyes, which leaves me wondering how much of it is real and how much is imagined. This has the effect of making even the dream sequences real and adds poignancy. I cannot imagine how this man can still draw for childrens' books after going through this experience. There is even a fair amount of dark comedy in the story.

Small's artwork in this graphic novel is stunning. They way he uses his brush to create shades of black and grey is amazing. Many of the pages in this novel stand alone as works of art independent of story. I particularly like the way he was able to convey the gray cluttered look of the decaying industrial Midwest. His whimsical drawings of cars of the big Detroit era are not only wonderful to look at, but convey a message of hopefulness and escape. I found his close-up imagery particularly effective.

David Small is not self-indulgent; he approaches big issues with this book: what is the impact of insanity in a family? What if a mother just honestly doesn't love her son? He deals with several weighty issues such as insanity, impact of dreams, repressed homosexuality, and the damage previous generations can inflict on people.

The story is as haunting and moving as Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" and one of the top "non-superhero" graphic novels ever written. We are living in an exciting time for the comics medium - serious artists are creating serious works and this is one of them. "Stitches" is a tour de force.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 26, 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Don't be misled because this book is a graphic novel. It is sophisticated in a literary sense and is definitely not a sweet little story for children nor even for some adults. If your bedtime reading influences your dreams, you may prefer to read this novel in the morning.

The black ink drawings with layered washes on white paper provide the strong contrast needed to illustrate an utterly terrifying story of a childhood in which most all adults are a menace. Many of the graphics are difficult to forget, such as the white Z of light from the crack of a door that breaks off the edge of a dark page or the smoke that frequently drifts across them. The author quickly and literally draws you into to the world of this little boy and you see it from his viewpoint and suffer the events as he does.

The text is used sparingly, mostly as dialogue, or as the first-person voice of the little boy, letting the sketches carry the weight of telling the story. There can be a full range of emotion in the face of a character in the frames of one spread or there can be one well-done change of scenery filling a page.

Sometimes it seems as if the boy's fantasies and dreams are more frightening than the world in which he lives but no, the real world in the story is worse *because* it is real. And it's not just real in the book; the story is true, a memoir, an autobiography, so you must ponder that the events did happen and were perceived as revealed to you. There are bits of dark humor throughout but it is difficult to laugh at them.

Technically, the book is as easy to follow from frame to frame as falling into a rabbit-hole, without any arrows or backtracking needed to find your way. That's not always the case with the layout of even well-drawn graphic novels and this speaks highly of the skill and care displayed here.

Stitches is not a memoir for everyone to enjoy but those who will like it, will like it very, very much.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2009
David Small in his graphic memoir "Stitches" is the explorer of the deepest of human's inner life. He tells his heartrending story about his illness and the process of being used for scientific experimentation by the "Soldiers of science" and their modern weapon X-Rays. He mockingly portrays the Nazi-like soldiers as "heroic men featured in the ads in Life magazine" (p 27) and their message that the miraculous X-Rays which could see through everything even metals would cure anything. The result of this experimentation is that he develops cancer then loses his voice after the procedure: "I soon learned, when you have no voice, you don't exist." (P212)
Demonstrating this terrifying scientific experimentation, Small is forced to take a journey into the enigmatic world of unknowns, digging irresistibly for the truth. Through his painful invisibility, despite the loss of his youth, Small discovers a magnetic voice inside him. Poetry of drawing! Through his empowering voice, his invisibility becomes visible in the eyes of those who know the art of seeing. His voice becomes essential as Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes in the Little Prince: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye".

The subversive and subjective elements in "Stitches" remind us Francisco Goya's paintings with social truths as images in this book of art could be reminiscent of our own life in the essence. The connection is clear and representative by one's sensitive memory of childhood with a symbolic centipede shape stitches running down one's neck. A lonely soul who dreams Gilgamesh- like dreams and nightmares, imagining a fetus running after you, looking at forbidden books, falling in love with characters in the particular books...and standing up for your own truth.

Although Small describes the tragedy of his own life in relation with his family, but it can be expanded to a broader perspective, a broad reader and to a larger humanity such as those who live under tyrannical societies, those living in wars, being invaded by foreign sources, even prisoners who are treated as strangers in this world.

The novel punches you repeatedly with effective punch lines such as: "I gave you cancer", "Your mother doesn't love you" and "Do you know what our utility bill is going to look like?" Or the illustration of sound languages in his alienated house: the slamming of kitchen cupboard doors Whap, Whap by his mother...or the sound of his father pounding on the punching bag: "Pocketa, pocketa....and Ted beating on his drum: Bum, Bum, Bum...and his own language, getting sick.

"Stitches" has many layers. It brings to mind great literature such as Woyzeck, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Little Prince and Charles Dickens' stories...More than anything else it resonates the story of our own life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2009
I had been looking forward to this book and read it within 2 hours today. (I would recommend that you savor your experience in a longer duration of the material.)

The book is a testimony to a child's ability, with the help of a sensitive and competent analyst (in the psycho-analytic sense) to save the emotional life of a human being, in this case the author. You also have to give the author's imagination credit (as he does) for being a lifeline and a means to self-understanding.

If David Small had not been a survivor, he could not have lived through the betrayal of his parents, the extreme dysfunction (hate that overused word) of the household and the alienating invalidating environment in which he grew up. The visual art is subtle and the caricatures are telling: we rarely see the eyes behind the adults who wear glasses except for one or two key scenes where the adult empathizes with the child.

You as the reader will get a sense of what it means to be redeemed by uncovering family secrets, in understanding the motivation of the 'family of origin', and how art and psychological truth allowed the writer, and all of us, to understand and finally forgive through that understanding, the parents and even grand-parents of the author.

The themes are universal: childhood mischief and curiosity, the despotism of family authority, the effect of circumstance on behavior. I cried and believe, if you have a heart, you will too, and not just for David Small the child, but for all of us who survived our childhood.
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