Saturday, 23 April 2016

Review - Shtum by Jem Lester

I honestly don’t know where to begin with my review of Shtum written by Jem Lester, as this was a book that moved me in a way that no book has for such a long time. It’s a mightily impressive debut that I’ve been meaning to pick up for several weeks having seen so many fabulous reviews by others in the book blogging world. This is definitely one of those books that is going to stay with me and one that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. 

In Shtum we meet the Jewell family with Emma and Ben who are parents to Jonah, a young boy who is high on the autistic spectrum. Struggling to cope with the demands of their life, it’s not long before Emma and Ben go their separate ways with Ben moving out to go and live with his elderly father. Taking Jonah with him, three generations of men come together to live in a small house in North London which isn't always easy. However, in addition to battling single fatherhood Ben also has another fight on his hands and that is with the local authority who is adamant that a local non-residential school is the best place for Jonah to be. Confident in his belief that Jonah will be better off at Highgrove Manor - a residential school that can meet Jonah’s needs but at a cost - can Ben convince the local authority that his way is the best way? 

I have to say that I felt a whole range of different emotions whilst reading this book during which I both laughed and cried. Firstly, I felt Ben’s frustration and anger towards the local authority in the novel who it’s clear were less interested in Jonah’s wellbeing and more concerned about funding, wanting to send him to a school that was quite clearly inappropriate for his requirements. I then felt a great deal of admiration for Ben who had demons of his own but was a brave character and determined to stand up for and do the right thing by his son. I then quickly came to love Ben’s father, Georg, who turned out to be an amazing grandfather and cared for Jonah so very much and I loved the way that as the novel progressed both Ben and Georg managed to iron out their differences and develop a close bond. The fact I felt so many emotions really does go to show how truly powerful and incredible Jem Lester’s writing style is. 

I’m not going to say that this was an easy read because it wasn’t but what this book has done is opened my eyes to autism, a condition which I previously knew very little about. It describes the challenges that parents with autistic children face and the way it completely changes their lives in a way I could never have previously imagined. I feel that the novel has been incredibly well researched in terms of the procedures that take place throughout its pages. At times it feels very real and as a consequence of this I feel that the book paints a very real and honest picture. 

I read this book in practically no time at all, just a few short hours as I was so wrapped up in Ben’s battle and wanted to know what the outcome would be. I think this book is one that is incredibly important for raising awareness to a condition that is not often spoken about in fiction and putting life into perspective, making you appreciate what is truly important in life. Although utterly heart-breaking it was beautiful for the way in which it was written and the way it made me feel. I commend Jem Lester on this masterpiece and look forward to reading more by this author in the future.