Monday, January 30, 2017

Shtum - Jem Lester

Sent to me by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Release Date: 26/01/17

Publisher: Orion Publishing

ISBN: 978-1409162988

Format: Paperback, 123pp

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Drama

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Dysfunction. Family. Struggle. Fatherhood.

First Impressions
Having just read another novel based around autism (A Boy Made Of Blocks - Keith Stuart) I was ready to jump into another quite soon. I find it is really important for individuals and parents to raise their own awareness of Autism. Honesty is key in the subject of Autism and Jem Lester definitely gives us an open account in Shtum. A novelisation of his own family's struggle to obtain a suitable education for his own son, Shtum hits hard and goes a long way to showing us what those affected by ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) face day to day.

Book Synopsis
Ten-year-old Jonah lives in a world of his own. He likes colours and feathers and the feel of fresh air on his skin. He dislikes sudden loud noises and any change to his daily routine.

Jonah has never spoken, yet somehow he communicates better than all of the adults in his life.

My Thoughts
Autism Spectrum Disorder affects lots of lives here in the U.K and all over the world. It can be debilitating, frustrating and heart-breaking. Awareness is important and Jem Lester is invested in bringing many aspects of Autism to light. The main plot in Shtum concerns both the day to day care of a child with Autism and obtaining the right quality of education that the child requires to have the opportunity to function in society and increase quality of life.

The plot is wrapped up in a huge dose of dysfunction. Jonah Jewell's parents are barely functioning, the severity of Jonah's condition has brought Ben and Emma to their knees. On top of this daily chaos, the Jewell's are facing a tribunal which will determine if Jonah gets a place in a school suited to his needs. The tribunal is a big part of the plot, documented by paperwork, emails and letters. When Emma suggests that they trial separate to increase the chance for help with Jonah in the future, the boys move in with Ben's father.

In all honesty, I found Shtum harder to handle than I thought I would. There is so much going on. From Ben's secret drinking problem, Emma separating herself from the family and the local authority trying their hardest to defer Jonah to a less expensive school to the sub plot with Ben's father that left me emotionally exhausted. Jonah is present for the duration of the book and he is the basis for all the conflict and bonding between the characters, though he is always in the background. The only time he is truly brought forward into the fold is with his interactions with his grandfather. This affected my reactions to Ben and Emma's behaviour, making it harder to empathise with some of the scenarios that they found themselves in.

I was glad to see that at a certain point, when the situation is at is worst, Shtum becomes consistently charming, enjoyable and uplifting. I found my stomach untwist itself and I was laughing at the three generations of Jewell and their daily interactions. Shtum is an important book and overall I thoroughly enjoyed it while I was shedding many tears. My favourite aspect of this book is evolution of the characters, taking on board the challenges they have faced in their lives and moving forward stronger. 

With themes like addiction, mental illness, rejection and emotional turmoil, Shtum is a tough read, but when you get to the core of the book, it becomes a unifying and warming piece about overcoming boundaries. I found it difficult to read to begin with, but after sticking with it, I was rewarded by an uplifting account of a family's unity in the well being of their child. Being a father myself, I strongly support books that encourage nurture and happiness so I have given this book a 4/5 stars. Thank you for reading this review and please leave a comment to tell me what you thought.

Pick up a copy of Shtum on the 26/01/17 at: Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads 

About the Author: Jem Lester was a journalist for nine years and saw the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 - and though there, he denies personal responsibility. He was also the last journalist to interview the legendary Fred Zinnemann, before the director died. He denies responsibility for that too. He taught English and Media studies at secondary schools for nine years. Jem has two children, one of whom is profoundly autistic, and for them he accepts total responsibility. He lives in London with his partner and her two children. (Official Orion Bio)

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