Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Boy Made of Blocks - Keith Stuart

Sent to me by Sphere Books UK in exchange for an honest review

Book Info: Hardback, Drama/Adventure/Video Game, 392pp

Buy/Read Now (links):
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Rating: 4/5

Readers looking for a life affirming story with plenty of drama and adventure.

Summed up in a few words
Parenthood. Challenging. Love. Overcoming.

First Impressions
Thank you to Clara at Little Brown for my copy of A Boy Made of Blocks. This was a tough but enjoyable book. There is so much tragedy and heartache in this book but the tides soon turn to a generous helping of love, fun, feel-good and adventure when Alex decides he wants to fight for his family. This is an incredibly up to date book, leaning heavily on the famous video game 'Minecraft' which manages to give creative release and normality for 8-year-old Sam who struggles daily with the effects of autism. Very enjoyable, made me cry a lot but I ended up thoroughly heart warmed.

Author Bio 
In 2012 one of Keith Stuart's two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing video games together - especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and Official PlayStation then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. 

The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks: a story about a dad who wants to communicate with his autistic son; a dad who has forgotten how to play. It is a story about letting go, about being a kid - which is how Keith learned about everything important in his life, starting with his son. (Official Bio)

Book Synopsis 
Meet thirty-something dad, Alex. He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, bit 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 this fragmented family put itself back together, one piece at a time?

My Thoughts
Alex has been kicked out the house with the request from his wife Jody to sort himself out. Since Sam was born it has been an up hill struggle for both of them, from not knowing why their son wasn't coping with life to then eventual diagnosis of Autism. Both Alex and Jody are exhausted, keeping up a brittle facade for those around them, but while Jody keeps fighting on, Alex is lost. A trial separation leaves Alex living with his best mate Dan and his easy going bachelor lifestyle.

As the years since Sam's birth went by, Alex became a shadow of himself, making excuses and living in fear of the next episode, tantrum or breakdown. Though being thrown out of that hostile and heartbreaking lifestyle doesn't give Alex the release that he was looking for and though he won't admit it at first, he wants to fight for that life, with everything he has. 

Sam begins to play Minecraft as a treat and he ends up being fixated, working his way through each game, methodically and learning a whole new world and its language. Though sceptical at first, Alex sees this as an opportunity to bond with his son and that process takes their relationship to places that Alex never thought his son was capable of. It is a truly inspiring tale that brought many a tear to my eye and dealt with some tragic and important subjects on the way. 

Autism is such a difficult and wide subject but Keith Stuart, being the father of an autistic son, treats the subject with all the respect it deserves but also shares with us an eye-opening account of what these parents have to deal with everyday. It blew my mind, being the father of a 3 year old myself, I have a grasp on the main process of raising a child, but Keith/Alex have a whole different set of rules to abide by. There is plenty of shock, awe and drama to begin with but eventually through determination, Alex comes to realise that he needs them both and will do what it takes to be a better father and husband.

That shift in perspective leads us the inspiring, heart-warming and life affirming side of this book. It leaves you with the feeling that all those problems you put at the back of your mind are not going to sort themselves out, it is only you who can get it done and move on.

This is a character driven story. We read from the first person perspective of Alex and witness his journey through the turmoil that is the separation from his family. From the loneliness, rejection and difficulty accepting his faults. To the panic of losing Sam forever and at last the choice to change himself forever, forget the past and get to know himself but more importantly Sam. 

Sam is the other side to this book, he is calculated, reactive and systematic, but those only work in his own subjective mindset and the way the world reacts to him doesn't make sense to to Sam. I can relate to a certain degree the emotions that Alex is dealing with when he is around Sam (though only on a minor level). This a book that is not really targeted at anyone, it is just a story that Keith Stuart needed to tell, to open people's eyes to the struggles of autistic children and the parents who work day in and day out to give them the life they deserve. 

The tone of the book changes as the plot develops, from a colder, struggle filled and moody atmosphere to one of determination, inspiration and love. There is an underlying theme of loss, which affects all the choices that Alex makes, due to the blame he feels for the loss. It is the most upsetting element of this book and I found it difficult to begin with but as you will soon learn that with Keith Stuart, he is all about turning the negative into a positive.

I have given this book 4/5 stars as it is an amazing read but I felt the pacing was a bit choppy to begin with and some of the interactions over the course of the book were slightly frustrating and unnecessary. That is only my opinion and your reading experience may differ. This is a book for those who want to open their eyes to the struggles of peers, other people in your community or other people in general. 

Parents and people who appreciate children, I definitely recommend this book to. It is a great piece that shows the importance of respecting your children and your other half and taking on problems as a family.

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