Book Review – Shtum

by Jem Lester
Started: 10th December 2015
Finished: 13th December 2015

I received this book from NetGalley and the premise really intrigued me. I’ve always been interested in how children develop and familial relationships from my psychology classes, so this sounded perfect for me.

Shtum centres on Ben Jewell whose son, Jonah, is autistic and occasionally uncontrollable and his wife Emma is doing everything she can to get him into a school much better suited for his needs. To do this she suggests staging a separation to help improve their tribunal case. With nowhere else to turn, Ben takes Jonah to live with his Dad, Georg, who he’s not spoken to in months…

I loved the way Jonah was written, he was very difficult but very charming and he always brought something extra to the novel. I really struggled to like any of the adult characters at first, however as the novel progressed and things fell into place you saw them develop and I was completely invested in them. Ben was an interesting protagonist, who was strangely both honest about his flaws and in denial about some of them. You couldn’t ignore his dedication to his son once he really put his mind to it. Although at the beginning this did seem to be more out of spite for his own father, which was a relationship just as complex as Ben’s and Jonah’s. I really enjoyed what Georg and his interactions with people brought to the novel, especially seeing how different he was with Ben and Jonah. It wasn’t really until the end of the novel that I liked Emma, at the beginning I found her frustrating and selfish but by the end it all makes sense and you understand her position a lot more – not just through her own explanations but through what we’ve witnessed Ben experience throughout the novel by this point.

I liked the plot of the novel and how it focused on the relationships between family members. From my little experience with autistic children and children with behavioural problems, this novel seemed like a very honest look into what it can be like for some children and parents who live with it. I loved seeing Georg and Jonah interact and I loved the way Ben would talk to Jonah when no-one else was around. The pacing of the novel was good, although it was a little rushed in parts and I would have liked to have seen a little more of Jonah at the end. I would also have liked to have more time with Georg, who brought much more to the plot than I was originally anticipating.

As much as I enjoyed the novel, I feel like it’s missing something. I think this is partly because it took me a little while to get into the novel, so by the time I did I had missed out of a lot of the set up. Where I didn’t warm up to the a lot of the characters right away I felt disconnected in the beginning, but once I had this was a very worthwhile read. I think this is a novel I’ll enjoy more upon a second read now I have established that connection.

Overall, it’s a very good, emotional, novel with some very honest, albeit sometimes frustrating, characters which you can’t help but fall for by the end. This novel illustrates the very real struggles that some families face in various ways which definitely makes this worth a read.

Rating: 3.5/5

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