Today I bring you a pretty special book. I was approached by the press officer about this book a while back and because of the subject matter, the writer and the approach I had to say yes. And I’m very pleased I did. Here is my review. (Ah, and the books is officially released today, 6th of September 2016).
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
A novel inspired by the author’s experiences with his autistic son, Zac
A wonderful life-affirming debut that will make you, laugh, cry and smile
The rights sensation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, twenty territories (and counting) sold
A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS by Keith Stuart
Published on 1st September 2016 | Hardback and eBook price £12.99
MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And it needs to start with him.
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 re-discover both themselves, and each other… can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?
A Boy Made of Blocks an astonishingly authentic story of love, family, and autism. Fans of About a Boy, Us and The Rosie Project will love this heart-warming, heart-breaking & wonderfully funny debut from an exceptionally talented new writer.
A few comments about the novel:
The Unmumsy Mum, ‘Heartwarming, funny and special. I devoured this cracking book’
Jenny Colgan, ‘Very funny, incredibly poignant and full of insight. Awesome’
Cath Burke, Publisher, Sphere Fiction ‘I simply adore this book. Since I read the very first initial chapters I have been talking about A Boy Made of Blocks to everyone I know and now that the finished novel is ready, I’m so excited for others to share the joy of Keith’s funny, emotional, heart-warming, inspiring and uplifting novel. A truly special read from a remarkably talented writer.’
Jack Smyth, Cover Designer ‘A Boy Made of Blocks has stayed with me in one way or another, six months after I read the earliest draft. Some books fall into the wayside of memory, but the really good ones make a lasting impression.’
Thanks to Net Galley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK and Sphere for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a unique book. Yes, I know all books are unique in one way or another, but this book is unique because it deals with something that is always going to be unique to the person experiencing it. If being a father doesn’t come with an instruction manual, being the father of a child within the autism spectre not only comes with no instructions, but it also shakes and spins around the world of those involved. Keith Stuart, the author, draws from his personal experience of fatherhood (his son Zac was diagnosed with autism when he was seven years old) to write a fictionalised account of learning to know your child in his or her own terms.
Alex, the protagonist, is a man in crisis. His relationship with his wife is so problematic that at the beginning of the book she’s sent him out of the house on a trial separation. He spends most of the book at a friend’s, Dan, with whom he shares childhood experiences and a trauma that has marked him more than he is willing or able to acknowledge. Alex is a good man trying to do the right thing, but unable to explore his own difficulties, or to acknowledge how his inability to let go makes it impossible for him to help himself and others.
He is confronted once and again with the need to be different, to try to listen and learn. And he discovers an ally in a computer game, Minecraft. The author, who reviews computer games for several publications, has talked about his experience of sharing the game with his own son and how that allowed his boy to show his creativity and to share a safe space with others. Although I’ve never played Minecraft, the descriptions of how the game works and the effect it had on both, Sam (the boy in the story) and his father is well rendered and easy to follow. The game and its effect over Alex also allows for some truly beautiful and insightful moments. Witnessing Sam’s sheer joy at understanding the rules of the world around him and being able to use them to create a new order and to have meaningful relationships with others is a great moment that the reader shares with Alex. He makes mistakes, he can be jealous, possessive, and cowardly at times, but he eventually does what is best and dares to push himself. As he states towards the end, his son guides him and shows him the way. If at the beginning Alex sees Sam as a problem he doesn’t know how to deal with and can’t see a future for him, by the end everything has changed. He discovers that Sam understands more than he ever realised and also that he is his own person. And a pretty impressive one at that.
The novel, written in the first person, makes us see and share the world from Alex’s point of view, and although we might not always agree with what he does, he is a fully-fledged human being, with his weaknesses and his strengths. We get to care for him, as we care for all the rest of the characters, who are also complex, confused and glorious human beings. There are the small family dramas, the highs and lows of everyday life taken to extremes, and they all rang true to me.
I have no children and my experience with children and adults within the autistic spectrum is mostly professional (I have worked as a psychiatrist and have some experience in an Asperger’s service) but I would happily recommend this book to anybody with an interest in the subject, whether they like or not to play computer games, or to anybody who enjoys novels based on characters and their experiences (rather than action and adventure), and who are happy to be exposed to extremes of emotions (yes, I did cry, sometimes happily, others not so much). It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching book at times that ends up on a hopeful note. I loved it.
Some information about the author:
KEITH STUART is games editor at the Guardian. He started out as writer and features editor on the highly influential magazine Edge before going freelance in 2000 to cover games culture for publications such as The Official PlayStation Magazine, PC Gamer and T3, as well as investigating digital and interactive art for Frieze. He also writes about music, film and media for the Guardian and is a regular on the Tech Weekly podcast. He is married with two sons.
He lives in Somerset.
For further information please check:
www.boymadeofblocks.com | @keefstuart | #MadeofBlocks
Thanks to the author (and the press officer) for this novel based on real life, thanks to all for reading, and if you’ve found it interesting: like, share, comment, and CLICK!