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Book Club Kits: Stitches

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children's illustrator and author, recreates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama, where David — a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents' buried frustration and rage.

Believing, as most parents do, that they were trying to do the best, David's parents, in fact, did just the reverse: Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag in the family's basement, was convinced that he could cure his little son by shooting him up with heavy doses of radiation, yet with near deadly results; while David's mother, Elizabeth, a tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding parent, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that render nightmare in a form that becomes a fairytale in itself, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child, to cancer patient, to troubled teen, whose risky decision to run away from home at 16 — with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist — would become the ultimate survival statement.

A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches is as much a memoir as a tale of redemption that informs us that things can get better, that good can emerge from evil, and that art has the power to transform. It is a both a profound gift and a remarkable achievement, a book that renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever read a graphic novel before? What do you like or dislike about his format?

  • Why do you think David Small chose this format to tell his story?

  • Have you ever read a memoir before? How is a memoir different from a biography?

  • What do the illustrations add to David’s story? Did they help you understand the events that he is describing better? Why or why not?

  • How is reading an illustration different from reading text? Which do you prefer and why?

  • Why do you think Small chose the eerie, 1950’s sci-fi style illustrations? How did this affect the way you perceived the story?

  • Do you feel that Small painted a realistic picture (literally and figuratively) of the other characters and himself?

  • David Small recounted an interesting period in his life, but did you feel it was realistic despite the surreal elements (like the fetus chasing him and Alice in Wonderland references)?

  • Why did David choose to depict his psychologist as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland?

  • Do you think if his parents had written about this same timeframe they would tell a similar tale? How do you think it would differ?

  • Why did David’s parents choose not to tell him that he had cancer? Do you think that withholding this information from David was a type of abuse?

  • Did the visit to Grandma’s house, which revealed more in-depth information about David’s mother’s upbringing, help you to better understand her behavior towards his children? Why or why not?

  • Why did David’s father finally decide to tell him what caused his cancer? Did his honesty change your opinion of him? Why or why not?

  • Why did David leave home at 16?

  • Do you believe it was ethical of Small to reveal his family’s not-so-positive story to the world? Why do you think he chose to tell this story?