This memoir is AMAZING. It is so powerful – so heart-wrenching – so disturbing – and so true. Hopefully none of us endured a childhood as devastating as David Small, but he has managed to make his experiences painfully relatable. I haven’t lived precariously, unsure of my relationships to others and especially my own body; but after reading Stitches I have a bit of an idea how it might feel.
David Small’s father treated childhood sinus infections with copious amounts of radiation. Unsurprisingly, he developed a growth on his neck. Shockingly, his parents and doctor responded to this very casually and he wasn’t operated on until three and a half years after his diagnosis. He woke from the operation to find himself nearly mute with a horrific gash across his neck.
The story begins at age six and the operation isn’t until his early teens. This record of his early life echoes with enforced silence and David’s lack of voice and autonomy even before any surgical intervention. Family relationships are exposed in their rawest form and the reader is left amazed at how anyone could possibly emerge from such an upbringing to live a positive life.
There are pages of this book that I had to close, put down, and think about before moving on (look out for any dream sequences). The images are so haunting. Some stories are just especially well-served by having accompanying illustrations and this is one of them. The reader experiences the shock of seeing David’s scar for the first time with him and acts as a witness to various other significant images. Many pages have no words at all and are simply drawings. It sounds trite, but some of these pages say far more than those with dialogue.
This is one of those stories that reinforce our simultaneous belief in the human spirit’s resilience and the human being’s capacity for cruelty. It also serves to remind us that we never really know each other’s stories until we ask. Nothing about Small’s career as a successful children’s author and illustrator hints at the darkness and drive to survive outlined in Stitches.