By: David Small
I have never read something that is so dark before from the story itself to the black and white sketch drawings that remind me of something like a bad dream. David's Small's graphic novel is a memoir of his life, a life that was not exactly full of happiness. I always find it hard to review a memoir or biography because it is someone's life and how do you critique someone's life. It is what it was. With that being said, although this was a dark book and not one that I would have picked up and enjoyed reading, I think it was presented beautifully. Small tells his story in a way that is appealing and new, in a graphic novel format. It is easy to read and does so much like a dark comic. He takes hard topics and turns them into something that young adults can read and will be interested in.
Small's family was far from the story book type. They all had their own language, none of which talked much. His mother had "furious, silent withdrawals that could last for days, even weeks at a time." His brother, "Ted, beat on his drum." His father, "home from work, went down to the basement and thumped a punching bag." He also had his own language, "a way of expressing" himself "wordlessly"...."getting sick," that was his language. Small paints us a picture of how lonely his life was even in his family, where we should all feel love and wanted. They all just existed with each other.
He shows us what is was like through a child's eyes. How scary and fun the hospital, where his dad worked and gave him x-rays to fix him. One minute he is riding the elevators and then sliding through the halls on his socks to the next minute seeing strange things in jars that came to life in front of him. He also shows us how exaggerated children can be such as when he was riding in the car and "with the windows up, the car was a furnace, windows down, it was a wind tunnel." You can relate to him as a child and it makes you believe that it is his real life not a "story."
Small had many experiences such as spending some time with his crazy grandmother, his mother's mom. He also go to go on boats with fancy doctors. But these were not all happy fun memories that you and I might have with our grandmother or riding on boats. Each of these memories had something negative attached to it.
His parents were also not very caring. They buy new cars and throw parties and go on shopping sprees more than they care about their sons health even after a doctors wife at one of their parties spots a growth on David's neck they whine about how much money it will be to get it looked at instead of worrying about what is wrong with him. All his mother says is "doctors cost money and money is something that is in short supply in this house!"
Finally 3 1/2 years later he goes in for surgery, he was 14. He ends up having two surgeries and we see his mother finally have a glimpse of care for him after the first. She came in to see if she could get him anything. "Anything you might need....or want." Small of course doesn't trust her or understand and smarts off back to her not understanding what is wrong with him. After the second surgery, his "silence was no longer a matter of choice." He was missing his growth and his thyroid gland and one of his vocal cords. He was left with "a crusted black track of stitches, his smooth young throat slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot."
David did not understand and it was only after he found a letter his mother had written that told him he had had cancer. His family never said anything to him but "suddenly things began making sense." The two surgeries, his "dad's unnatural bonhomie and mother's strange burst of generosity." We see that they were scared they thought he was not going to make it....but he did.
David started to spiral down hill after this he skipped school, screaming in his head, and strange dreams. He was sent to an all-boys school and ran away several times. He was send home with the advice to seek psychiatric help. He finally confronts his parents about having cancer and they get defensive. I think this was probably because they felt bad about letting his cancer get so bad before taking care of it. I couldn't help but think that they felt guilty for a minute they didn't want him to have cancer so by ignoring it and saying that it was gone was their way of dealing with that guilt. They didn't need to talk about it and if they didn't talk about it, it hadn't happened. We see this guilt even more when his father tells him it was his fault, all the x-rays when he was young, that he gave his son cancer.
They sent him to a psychiatrists and David finally got to talk. "after life in a house where silence reigned and free speech was forbidden." I think this was the turning point for David, he got to get all of those pent up feelings out and I can't help but wonder if this had never happened for him how differently his life might have turned out. We really see this in the end when his mother had died and he has a dream. In the dream he was young and his mother was sweeping a path from his house to another.
"Suddenly I realized the building was the one where grandma had been locked away. The old central state asylum. The figure was my mother. Sweeping the path, clearing the way for me to follow.
He could have easily ended up with all his troubles pent up inside much like his mother and grandmother and followed them into that crazy life but he decided he was going to be different. He got his feelings and and made a life for himself that was different that theirs. He goes out on his own and tries to change his life and even thought it was hard he finds an outlet, art. "Art became my home. not only did it give me back my voice, But art has given me everything I have wanted or needed since." I think this shows anyone reading this that you can find something that will help you and be your niche. Everyone goes through hard times, maybe not necessarily like David, maybe something easier such as self confidence, bullying, lack of feeling like you belong. But everyone can find something that makes them shine if you have the will and want to do better. I think this is why David told us his story even though it was dark and sad. He became something even through his beginnings would have been enough to keep anyone down. This book was written to teach us that you can overcome as well as written to be therapeutic for David himself, which is why I think it is a great book, even if it was dark and sad for me to read.