Stitches: A Memoir Book Poster Image

Stitches: A Memoir

Powerful look at abusive childhood for mature readers only.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Parents and teachers can use this book to talk about different kinds of abuse -- and also the power and popularity of graphic novels. See our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas.

Positive messages

The author has a revelation about not succumbing to anger and madness like his mother and grandmother; he is determined to break the cycle of abuse.

Positive role models

David endures a painful childhood, expressing his pain through art. The first supportive adult he finds is the psychologist he goes to after stealing his parents' car and being kicked out of school. He leaves home at 16 and finishes school, becomes a successful artist, and marries, but this memoir focuses more on the hell he lived through than on the resiliency required to survive it.


The emotional abuse by David's parents is just as horrific as the verbal abuse. But other violence abounds, as when David's grandmother goes insane and locks his grandfather in the basement before setting the house on fire. The stark visual images reinforce the horror David faces as a child and in his nightmares; a shot of a fetus suspended in a glass jar outside a lab is frequently in his nightmares. David is barely able to speak after cancer surgery -- a surgery his parents put off for years.


David and his brother look at their father's medical books when they are young and point out breasts and penises. One of his mother's friends is very sexy and he is attracted to her; when he's 15, he finds this friend in bed with his mother. He later states that her repressed lesbianism caused many of her emotional problems. David is taunted for acting gay while young because he is sensitive and imaginative. His grandmother is drawn dancing naked outside when she goes insane.


"Tit" and "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The adults are shown smoking cigarettes and drinking cocktails or wine in many if not most of the illustrations. David's father, a doctor, always gives his son health advice (on posture) or bad news (that he has cancer) while puffing incessantly on cigarettes.

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. 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:David Small
Illustrator:David Small
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Non-Fiction
Publisher:W. W. Norton & Co.
Publication date:September 1, 2009
Number of pages:329
Publisher's recommended age(s):17
Available on:Paperback, Hardback

This review of Stitches: A Memoir was written by

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Parent of a 7 and 12 year old Written byaghurrican October 3, 2010

A Disturbing But Powerful Memoir for Ages 12+

I'm confused as to why this book should be kept out of the hands of kids younger than 18! Indeed, it is disturbing material, but I feel it is handled in a sensitive and accessible (graphic) format. A child experiencing any kind of abuse might find this book to be an extremely hopeful and redemptive reading experience. For kids fortunate enough to come from healthy households, this book can open up productive conversations with parents about mental health, family dynamics, and the resiliency of the human spirit.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Adult Written byJess-thejoysofr... December 3, 2009

For mature young adults not recommended for younger audiences

Personally I thought this was an excellent graphic novel. I read this one because it was nominated for a National Book award in the Young Peoples category. Though entered in this category, I would not recommend this title for anyone under the age of 16. Emotional abuse, sex, a little swearing, and some images of smoking are found throughout. I would recommend this title for older mature teens as this book would lend itself well for discussion, a great book to read along with your older teen.
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written byserlibnf October 1, 2010
I read the advanced reader's copy of this book, actually given to me and autographed by Small himself at a national library conference. He cautioned me not to have any children read it; so I read it at night when the kids were in bed. A very frank look at a really disturbing childhood. That Small was able to overcome everything he experienced/witnessed as a child could be inspirational but only to those older than 17. It does send a very good message about getting professional help and how mental health professionals saved his life. However, once I read it, I felt uncomfortable keeping it in the house. I was worried that if my [tween] kids found the graphic novel on a shelf, they may pick it up thinking it was something they could read. Did it deserve a National Book Award-yes, for young peoples, no.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex