David Small's follow-up to Stitches is a powerful coming-of-age story. Set in the dark underbelly of 1950s small-town America, it addresses issues of masculinity, peer pressure and parental abandonment.
Russell "Russ" Pruitt and his father, Mike, move to California after Russ's mother abandons the family. An aunt denies them boarding in Pasadena, so Mike settles in the Bay Area, in a town called Marshfield. They rent a room from the Mahs, a kindly Chinese couple who own a restaurant in town and who help the Pruitts get settled. After Mike finds work as a teacher in San Quentin, he buys a home on the G.I. Bill.
Mostly ignored by his father, Russ explores Marshfield on bike with Willie and Kurt, two local kids who hang out in an abandoned tunnel known as the Arroyo. At his new school, Russ finds himself targeted by a bully and befriends Warren, the local oddball. At home, alcohol begins to consume Mike, leaving Russ mostly alone and increasingly pressured by Willie and Kurt to behave in ways that further alienate him.
Small uses dialogue sparingly from panel to panel. Barren landscapes jump to run-down, abandoned homes, heightening the bleak harshness of Marshfield's empty streets and its one-dimensional, unyielding denizens, cementing Russ's status as the lonely misfit. His deteriorating home life and moral struggles leave him both envious and suspicious of the Mahs' doting attentions. His stoic face melts into scowls as he aspires to a masculinity he does not feel in the company of his friends, while mocking the only friend he has. Russ largely suffers in silence, his innocence lost in abandonment and desperation to survive.
Small paints a heartbreaking but redemptive portrait of adolescence that resonates with honesty and, ultimately, forgiveness. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant