by Keith Stuart
Started: 1 September 2016
Finished: 2 September 2016
Before we get stuck in, a huge thank you to the Little, Brown Book Group for sending me a review copy of A Boy Made of Blocks.
The novel follows Alex, who’s going through a trial separation from his wife, Jody, and his relationship with his autistic son, Sam. Living with his best friend Dan, who seems to know everyone, and the memory of his brother which haunts him, Alex knows a change must be made to bring his family back together. But will that be possible if he doesn’t even understand his own son?
I wasn’t sure whether I would like Alex at first, however I quickly realised that although I may not like some of his actions (or, rather, lack of actions) at times or some of the things he says I understood where they were coming from. His pairing with Dan was great as where they’re quite different you got to explore Alex’s character further. As great as Alex was, Sam completely stole the show. I really loved the way Sam was written and you could tell Stuart was heavily influenced by his own son, Zac, as Sam felt so human. I found it very interesting to see Sam’s thought process through his choice of topics to speak about (or not as was also the case). Sam was a wonderful character who offered something new on every page.
In particular I found Sam’s obsession with Minecraft very interesting to see unfold. Personally, I loved the way Alex began to learn more about Sam through playing Minecraft with him. Not only did this help Alex learn about Sam but me as well and how some autistic children interact and engage with things they have an interest in. Additionally, how Alex and Jody would use Minecraft as a way to help calm him or help understand something else happening in his life was also interesting to see.
All of the characters in the novel were complex and great at highlighting characteristics within either Alex or Sam. I found each of them essential to the novel and they all added something new. For example, I liked how Matt and Clare’s marriage complemented Alex and Jody’s showing that everyone has problems regardless of their situation or your perception of their situation.
Throughout the novel there were many times I found myself strongly feeling the emotions of Alex, especially where Sam was concerned. The joy of seeing them connect or Sam excelling at something; the anger towards Sam’s school or anyone being mean to him and the heartbreak when Sam is inconsolably sad. To me, this is a sign of excellent writing and well developed characters. I found the plot very well paced as Alex was just trying to get through each day without anything major happening and occasionally have larger goals to accomplish. With this novel I was never quite sure how it was going to end, whenever I had an idea of what would happen with Alex (and Jody) something would then change that. This, along with the characters and pacing of the novel, made the story feel more convincing and realistic at times as life isn’t as straight-forward and predictable as novels.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this novel. I could have happily read another 400 pages of Alex and Sam’s relationship and adventures (a word I will now think of slightly differently thanks to Sam and Jody). This is an excellent debut novel from Stuart and one, I believe, that will have everyone eager to see what he does next.