“What a pair. Double D’s. Poking up at me like twin peaks. Pam Anderson, eat your heart out. Too bad they’re attached to a fourteen-year-old boy.”
So begins Anthony Youn’s “In Stitches,” a refreshingly honest and humorous memoir about the life of a surgeon in the making. For pre-med students curious about what it actually takes to become a doctor, “In Stitches” offers a one-of-a-kind look into the transformation from college kid to working physician.
Youn, an Asian American who grew up in the small, predominately Caucasian town of Greenville, Mich., said the book chronicles his evolution from a shy, “wallflower-type” kid to a successful plastic surgeon who makes appearances on shows such as “Dr. 90210,” “The Rachael Ray Show” and “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“The first third of the book is about growing up in Michigan feeling kind of like an outsider, kind of like an ugly duckling,” Youn said. “And then it progresses through college where I went four years without a date … the last two-thirds of the book are about medical school and the process of becoming a doctor.”
With stories including a recounting of his date with a fire-eating carnival worker and a description of his small-town roots, “In Stitches” differs enormously from the medical memoirs that typically occupy bookstore shelves.
“I’ve read a lot of medical memoirs by physicians, and to me, they all came across as being overly serious,” Youn said. “In a lot of ways, the books focused on keeping the doctor as the hero of the story. And what I wanted to write was a book about becoming a doctor (and) the process of medical school in particular.”
“These books were typically written by 50-something-year-old men who wrote stories about how they change patients’ lives. And my book is exactly the opposite of that.”
Youn said he wanted to write a book of equal parts truthful and funny that would appeal to a broad range of audiences.
“Even if you’re not Asian American, even if you’re not technically going to be a doctor, a lot of people are still finding parts of the book that they can really empathize with,” he said. “Whether it’s empathizing with someone who can’t find a date, to feeling the pain and the difficulty of going through medical school, to even minor things … like university housing.”
But the book doesn’t just depict the lighter side of the medical-school experience. After describing how he watched his first patient die seconds after meeting her, Youn acknowledged that there are sad, more serious stories in the book as well.
“It’s kind of like real life,” he said. “In real life, there are parts where you’re laughing, and there are parts where there’s a lot of sadness.”
Youn said that the book — which was designated the 2012 Michigan Notable Book of the Year and has received praise from USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and “The Rachael Ray Show,” among others — was initially rejected by 30 different agents before it was picked up.
“I don’t even know how many times I heard that medical books don’t sell, people aren’t interested in learning about medical school and being a doctor,” he said. “I think that with the book, it’s something that hopefully I’ve proven wrong.”
Youn said that with such a positive response to the book, especially among college students, a second book is potentially in the works.
“This book literally ends with the end of medical school,” he said. “But there is also that transition of going from medical school to being a real, practicing doctor, and that would be the idea behind the second book.”
With stories that include unrequited love and medical disasters, wide critical acclaim, celebrity endorsements and a major literary award, it would seem Youn’s “In Stitches” has indeed broken the mold of the traditional medical memoir.