A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stitches: A Memoir was originally published as a memoir for adults, but it was a 2009 National Book Award Finalist in the Young Adult category. Technically, it can be called a coming-of-age story, but Small did not write it for a young or even teen audience. As an adult book, it has been accurately called disturbing and cathartic. The horror of a boy being subjected to repeated radiation treatments by his father, losing his vocal cord and ability to speak to cancer at the age of 14, and being lied to about all of it by his parents is nightmarish enough, but the scenes of David finding his mother in bed with another woman, and later his grandmother trying to kill his grandfather in a fire and dancing naked outside the burning house mark it further as a book for very mature readers.
What's the story?
David Small grows up sickly and is treated by his radiologist father with radiation while emotionally starved by his repressed and unhappy mother. A growth on his neck is diagnosed as benign at age 11, but his parents delay surgery for three years, stating expense as an excuse. Surgery at 14 reveals cancer that is kept secret from him; David loses his thyroid, vocal cord, and his voice. Anger at his parents increases when he finds his mother in bed with another woman and he begins to act out. His grandmother goes insane and tries to burn up his grandfather, his father admits his guilt in David's cancer, and the bad times just keep coming. Kicked out of boarding school, he finds his first supportive adult in his therapist, and a glimmer of hope that he can find a better life.
Is it any good?
STITCHES is elegant both visually and textually, with many heartbreakingly memorable moments. Small deserves recognition for his use of the graphic novel format to create this powerful memoir. Hopefully it will receive the recognition it's due in the world of adult literature.
Teen readers who are ready for the subject matter may frequently find themselves balled up in anger -- just like the many depictions of the author in his childhood as he endures one injustice after another. Child abuse is hard to watch from any vantage point and thankfully Small finds his way out of the cycle and ends the book on a hopeful note.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about who they think the audience for this book is. This was published for adults, but it is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist in the Young Adult category. Do you think it will resonate better with teens or grownups -- or both?
What images in the story were the most startling? How would this book have been different if it would have been a straight narrative rather than a graphic novel?
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