Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stitches

David Small


This memoir graphic novel has been getting a lot of notice lately from outside of the comics community, most notably nominated for a National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category.  It was also listed as one of Publisher's Weekly's best books of the year.  Perhaps it's because Small is well known in other aspects of literature that this caught more mainstream attention, particularly with the National Book Award nomination, since he is a Caldecott-winning author of children's picture books, and was nominated in the Young People's Literature category when this book was not marketed as such.  Whatever the reason, having read this book, I'm amazed that this has been so praised, pretty much held up over other graphic novels published this year and proclaimed as the best by some well-respected book lovers outside of the comics community.  This is a good book, don't get me wrong, but it's certainly not the best thing published this year in the medium.  The same thing happened a few years ago with American Born Chinese, when a year full of exciting graphic novel releases had come out, a good book was praised, while excellent ones were overlooked by the mainstream.

Stitches follows parts of David Small's life growing up.  They are pretty specific times from his youth, introducing readers to his eccentric, cold (but really interesting) family, including his abusive grandmother who would later be institutionalized.  But despite these characters, there's not much meat to this graphic novel until much later when David is hospitalized and a growth is removed from his neck.  The surgery actually demands that one of his vocal chords be taken out as well, leaving him without much of a voice, but communication hasn't been the strong point with the family, ironically.  There are pretty big revelations toward the end of the novel, but concerning the supporting cast only.  The main character of this book, David himself, is alarmingly underdeveloped.  He remains a scowling, brooding wallflower throughout the entire story, giving little for the reader to identify with.  There are things that come up later in David's life, like his Bohemian friends that he associates with, that just seem oddly out of place simply because we don't know David very well, and nothing earlier in his life that Small painted for us indicates what kind of a person he is or where his interests and beliefs lie.  While events throughout remain shocking, without a sense of the character who is suffering from these afflictions, I felt mildy detached throughout.  I definitely enjoyed reading this graphic memoir, especially when the story focused on his complicated mother, but best of the year, it is not.

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