by Jem Lester
Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken. So when Ben and Jonah are forced to move in with Ben’s elderly father, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.
As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths. Jonah, blissful in his innocence, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.
Ben and Emma are struggling to bring up their severely autistic son, Jonah. At 11 years old, he can’t talk, he can be aggressive, he is doubly incontinent and needs 24 hour care.
The couple are pitted against the local council in trying to secure a place at a special school that Jonah really needs but the council don’t want to pay for. When Emma suggests faking a separation to assist Jonah’s tribunal, Ben has to move back in with his father, Georg, and here is where the story really takes place; the relationship between the three male members of the Jewell family.
This is not a sentimental story of having a child with aspergers. This is an honest, unflinching account that lands you smack bang in the middle of the horrendous difficulties of caring for a severely autistic child and the repercussions on the adults and their own relationships. But it is a moving story told with great love and humour.
I really liked Ben despite his flaws, which are plenty, his love for his son comes shining through and his fight for him, despite his life collapsing around him, will have you in tears.
Emma’s character is seriously distorted by being seen purely through Ben’s eyes and you must make up your own mind as to whether everything is too much for her or she is more than a little selfish.
Ben’s father Georg is a wonderful character, a Hungarian born Jew with a backstory of escaping the Nazis that he shares with his grandson, Jonah, but not with his son; leaving father and son poles apart and unable or unwilling to bridge the gap.
I really enjoyed this book. It is highly emotional having you laughing out loud one minute and crying the next. The author does a brilliant job of exposing the hellish route that ordinary people have to travel to get any sort of statement for their autistic children from an indifferent bureaucratic machine.
Shtum is published on 7th April 2016. To pre-order click here
Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy.