A new graphic memoir reaches even those who don’t favor the genre. ‘Stitches’ will haunt you, but in a good way.

When an employee at the Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino who reviews books for The San Francisco Chronicle, writes: ‘This nearly wordless graphic novel rendered our staff of jaded booksellers speechless,’ and a critic from the highly regarded magazine Booklist, states, ‘If there’s any fight left in the argument that comics aren’t legitimate literature, this is just the thing to enlighten the naysayers,’ I listen. Then I want to learn what all the fuss is about.

What I found in ‘Stitches,’ a book I never would have picked up had I not read the rapturous reviews, is a work of brilliance. It does what all good literary pieces do; it pulls at the reader’s emotions – in a big way. Glancing at the black and white drawings in ink and wash and reading the minimal text throughout, one can’t help but empathize with Small, a child turned teenager turned young adult, who endures constant castigations from a highly dysfunctional family. In this setting, we witness the cruel words and actions and often silent rejection from his parents. As a teenager, Small learns he has cancer, a word that the dictionary defines as ‘evil influence or corruption spreading uncontrollably’; and I thought, yes, this is Small’s story.

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Small’s drawings, particularly the facial expressions, are one reason I keep returning to the book. The emotions of anger, frustration, confusion, and outrage are drawn with such perfection that I cringed when he cringed and wanted to shout when he shouted. And then there are the pages of tears: comic book squares filled with downpours of Small’s sorrowful catharsis. Oh my God! The wounds he suffered! That’s what graphic literature does: it tells and shows the human condition at its best and worst, without holding back.

Other notable books in this genre include ‘Sin City,’ ‘300’ and ‘Persepolis,’ all of which have been transformed to the screen.

Some graphic novels appear in series with certain themes, such as ‘Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,’ a holocaust story; ‘Persepolis,’ the struggles of an Iranian girl; and ‘The Dark Tower,’ a gunslinger’s adventure in a Western setting. Of course, there are many other topics and titles in this genre.

I’m guessing most people will read Stitches in one sitting as I did. And then read it again and again and again. Stitches is heart-wrenching and heartwarming and will pull you in. How could it not? While Small is well known for his award-winning children’s books (‘Imogene’s Antlers,’ ‘The Gardener,’ and ‘So, You Want to Be President?’) and his career as editorial artist for publications such as The New Yorker and The Washington Post, I believe this latest work, published this fall, will be added to his collection of accolades. Book this one!  

~ Discuss the article with the author at equesnel@moonshineink.com

Author

  • Eve Quesnel

    Eve Quesnel has lived in Truckee for 35 years with her husband Bill, once-upon-a-time daughter Kim-now on her own-and many dogs through the years, currently a Border Collie-Aussi mix. Her favorite pastimes include walking in her neighborhood and nearby woods, hiking in the high Sierra, and reading and writing. Quesnel is now retired from teaching English at Sierra College in Truckee but continues to pursue several writing projects. She is intrigued by the natural world of which she explores and writes about for the column "Nature's Corner" in Moonshine Ink.

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