Stitches: A Memoir

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
Stitches: A Memoir Book Poster Image
Powerful look at abusive childhood for mature readers only.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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."

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.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTabitha P. November 28, 2016

Books really do save lives

I am an 18 year old female who was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes in 2025, after reading this book. If it wasn't for this book I would not be whe... Continue reading
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... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bymcordova9 May 12, 2016


This graphic novel has a lot of good life lessons and gets you thinking about the character. I choose 15+ because there is a lot of violence and a page where a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byORyhann May 23, 2013


its a very very abusive and has inmuture photos. David draws his grandma with no clothing.

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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