This autobiographical comic is basically a study of the cruelty that parents can inflict on their own children. This story is powerful, fascinating, and very upsetting.
The book is about David Small's unhappy childhood. His mother terrorizes him psychologically, his grandmother abuses him physically, and his radiologist father is mostly absent from his life except when he X-rays David to "cure" his sinus problems (this takes place a while ago).
His parents are awful. They do not fail to take out their anger on young David. They just treat him so poorly, and it killed me to see it happen. For instance, here's a pretty rotten thing for a mother to say to her son:
The book follows David's discovery of a lump on his neck and the removal of the lump years later, and it shows how he narrowly avoided following in his parents' miserable footsteps. (I wouldn't have minded seeing more of him as a happy, successful adult, after watching him suffer so much as a kid.)
I should say that I had never heard of Small before reading this book, probably because this is his first published comic book. He is not some neophyte, however -- he has illustrated over 40 picture books, he won the 1997 Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Medal for “The Gardener" and the 2001 Caldecott Medal for “So, You Want To Be President?”, and his drawings have appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times.
You can see his background in his art style: his drawings sometimes have the feeling of being newspaper illustrations. He excellently portrays emotions and body language, and he also creates some searing images, like the one of his mother above. Other pictures are just beautifully sad, like this one of six-year-old David undergoing treatment:
Be warned, this is a difficult thing to read. I found myself wanting to reach into the book and rescue David. When a piece of art has that strong of an effect on me, however, I take it as a sign of excellence. This is a very good comic book and I highly recommend it.