A Boy Made of Blocks
by Keith Stuart
Publishing Date: 1st September 2016
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 400
Genre: General Fiction
Discover a unique, funny and moving debut that will make you laugh, cry and smile.
Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.
Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.
But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .
Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?
Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, A Boy Made of Blocks is an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism.
Lately there seems to be few fiction novels dealing with autism, and the books about this disability are gaining ground. However, as each of the stories deals with different spectrum of autism, they all feel so different to each other and they show that it affects people in many different ways. I didn’t hesitate long when I was invited to read “A Boy Made of Blocks” – the subject matter is close to my professional heart – I am a teacher and during my studies I used to have contact with children with many different disabilities, also the autistic ones, and I can say one thing – they are special angels. This story was a unique, exquisite, funny and emotional debut. I was immediately drawn to it and I felt like this till the end.
To be honest, after reading “Shtum” earlier this year, Sam didn’t seem to be AS difficult as Jonah and his actions didn’t surprise so much, in comparison to Jonah he was a very uncomplicated boy, but nevertheless, he was on the spectrum and living with him, raising him was not a walk in the park for his parents, friends and family, and the author isn’t shy from showing how it really is, without beating around the bush. What I so admire in the novels about autism is how honest the authors are when describing all the feelings and emotions and showing the not so perfect life – real life. The issues in Jody and Alex’s marriage seemed so realistic, the life described seemed so realistic and you just could connect and relate with the characters. It is a story about building a new relationship between father and son and I really liked that Alex found it in himself, that he eventually overcame his barriers, that he started to understand and appreciate his son and wife and we were taken with him on a very emotional journey. We were allowed to see how they all learn each other, how they all make mistakes but also how they learn from those mistakes. What was really moving was that they all were trying, no matter what. Sure, they all had moments of doubt but they never gave up.
I truly admired Jody and Alex for coping the way they did. I think it is somehow normal that there comes a time when one of the people, living with such demanding child, just can’t any more. I am not justifying Alex, who – shortly – shifted all of the responsibilities and duties about Sam on Jody’s shoulders and was panicking when he was supposed to take Sam to the park and also fled into his work – I am only saying that I understand it. It could also be the other way round, of course. And it’s not a wonder that finally, eventually, the couple started to pass each other, the everyday life felt like a battle and that they didn’t have time for each other anymore – hence the trial separation. I also admired how the author described Jody – as a strong woman who sacrificed herself and her career for her son but also a woman who had her moments of weaknesses, who couldn’t anymore. It is great that – even though the book is told mostly from Alex’s point of view – we also get a chance to find Jody’s point of view and to see how she feels. I also think that there was so much more to Alex and his character, which we learn throughout the story, and we see that he has so many issues to deal with – he just didn’t know how. There were things that he was running from and this story was also truly sad and heart – breaking. Moreover, the way the author captured Sam is brilliant – I have totally fell for him and his struggles. He was a lovely boy who struggled at school, who hated noise, who ate only particular food, was afraid of big dogs and reacted with violence when he felt at risk. But you can also see that he also, on his own way, tried, and the moments when he looked at his parents with appreciation, when he allowed them to touch or hug him, made my eyes swell with tears. Seeing the world through his eyes really show how scary and unfair can it be for children with autism, and the author has truly wonderfully pictured this world – it was as if he was sitting in Sam’s head and had a clear vision of things how Sam sees them, and I really admire such empathy.
What made this book so special for me was the fact that it dealt not only with autism, but also with Alex’s private life, making the story even more interesting, hooking and colourful. The only thing that bothered me a little, although it didn’t spoil the reading completely for me, was that there were many moments that it felt like a tribute to Minecraft and its creators. Those were also the moments that the story went too slow for me, and I’d rather prefer if it focused more on searching for a school for Sam, showing how he adapted to the new school than on describing every single figure and moment of Minecraft – sorry, maybe I’m just not into computer games. However, I really do appreciate that this time the computer game was associated with good and positive things, working for the characters and not against them.
“A Boy Made of Blocks” was sad but also happy, pessimistic and optimistic at the same time, heart – breaking and uplifting. To every low there came a high. It was full of moving, but also down – to – earth scenes and greatly developed characters, each of them with their own story. It may seem that the story of Alex’s sister or mum is not significant to the whole book, but I had a feeling that they fully belong there, as they were also a part of his – and Sam’s – world. I also absolutely liked the writing style – it’s easy to follow and makes the reading so effortless. The characters seem so honest in the way they communicate and behave and you have a feeling that the author really knows what he’s talking about – and well, he really knows, as he based the story on facts. And the reality of this story hits you so hard, as everything here is described just the way it really is, with problems, with parents feeling left alone, but also every small positive thing making them feel over the moon. Altogether, it was a beautiful, moving story about re – evaluating your life and priorities, about re – connecting with your loved ones, about finding a way. It makes you really think, and I love such books, and you can be sure that it’s going to stay with you for a long way after you read the final page. Highly recommended!