[Monday Reading] Depression That Eats Away At You in “Stitches” and “Small Things”

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

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We have just recently launched our new reading theme this March and April, and we are focusing on literature peopled with characters who are differently-abled, diagnosed as having mental issues or psychological problems. These two powerful narratives (graphic novel and a recently-published picturebook) highlight what it’s like to be in the throes of depression, and how one can find a way out of it. While harrowing, they are ultimately stories of redemption and courage.


fullsizerender-37Stitches: A Memoir

Written and Illustrated byDavid Small
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009 ISBN: 0393338967 (ISBN13: 9780393338966) Literary Awards: Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee (2011), ALA Alex Award (2010), National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2009), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction & Graphic Novel (2009)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I was seriously under the impression that I reviewed this book before, and I have been going through all of our posts since 2010 to look for it – but couldn’t find that phantom post that I must have only written in my head.

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This is the kind of graphic novel memoir that would stay with you for a long while, even after you have finished reading it. My Goodreads tells me that I read this book in 2014, but some of the details still remain fresh in my mind. Suffice it to say that David Small had a very difficult childhood – with emotionally absent and physically abusive parents. His mother clearly had a mental condition, and his grandmother, with whom he lived with for a period of time, was not only mentally ill, but also extremely dangerous, as attested by her eventually burning up her home and attempting to kill her own husband in the process:

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David Small also had a physical condition that necessitated surgery when he was fourteen that rendered him voiceless for a long period of time. He belatedly discovered that he had cancer, but his parents never revealed to him just how bad he had it.

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He tried to cope by losing himself in books – but even that his parents took away from him, burning a book that he read because it was considered “smut” by his mother. He started skipping school and his unwilling parents brought him to a psychiatrist because they felt they had no choice in the matter, especially since he has been running away from home quite a number of times. I like how symbolic Small portrayed his psychiatrist, even as he articulated truths that David did not seem ready to hear:

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David eventually lived on his own at the young age of sixteen, supported himself, and immersed himself in his art, which eventually proved to be his salvation. While he was constantly anxious about turning into his mother or even his grandmother who was eventually locked up in an asylum – he found a way to heal himself, as he wilfully refused to go down that dark path leading to perdition. While his portrayal of his parents/grandparents was undoubtedly horrific, it was also done with great sensitivity and a desire to extend his own understanding and derive meaning from his experience. I hope that writing his story proved to be healing for him as well.

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Written and Illustrated by: Mel Tregonning
Published by: Allen & Unwin, 2016 ISBN13: 9781742379791. Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This is a book that everyone must find and read. It shows the wordless story of a young boy who is slowly being eaten up by hungry black creatures that gnaw at his insides and chip away at his very core:

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It is a story of gathering courage to seek for help when the situation calls for it – and to reveal one’s own demons to heal another. I was especially moved when this boy’s sister revealed her own monsters within that eat at her:

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It is a poignant acknowledgment that everyone carries their own monsters within, and that there is no shame in reaching out to seek for assistance – or reach out to another in friendship and support.

The story behind the making of this picturebook is also devastating as Mel Tregonning took her own life after suffering from deep depression – even before she could even finish this book that consumed her. Shaun Tan was gracious enough to fill in the missing art work to ensure that Mel’s work could reach more people – and let them know they are not alone. Find this book and read it.

  1. I hadn’t head of either of these books. Thank you for sharing them. I’m definitely going to check them out.

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  2. Stitches has some gorgeous illustrations. I hope you enjoy reading this week!

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

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  3. Wow! These profound graphic novels here are so important. Your theme reminded me of a graphic novel I read ages ago. Tangles, by Sarah Leavitt, is the story of her experience with her mother who was diagnosed with early onset alzheimer’s. You can read more about it here. http://sarahleavitt.com/tangles/
    It is very good!

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing! I’ve dealt with the situations of abuse in my family through writing and art. Recently, I was toying with the graphic novel idea to “tell” my stories, but I thought the details were too dark. This is so encouraging to see someone do this so beautifully, it gives me hope and I’m sure many others who have been through such difficult ordeals in their lives.

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  5. Wow. Some seriously powerful reading this week. These are both new to me. Will have to check them out.

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  6. Stiches is such a tough read, but it is beautiful and important.
    I didn’t know Small Things, so thank you for sharing.

    Happy reading this week! 🙂

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  7. Thanks for sharing Small Things. I’m very curious about it and I’m sure will be thought provoking.

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