Review: A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Title: A Boy Made of Blocks
Author: Keith Stuart
Publisher: Sphere
Publication Date: 1st September 2016
Pages: 400
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 5/5
Purchase: Amazon
Alex loves his family, and yet he struggles to connect with his eight-year-old autistic son, Sam. The strain has pushed his marriage to the breaking point. So Alex moves in with his merrily irresponsible best friend on the world’s most uncomfortable blow-up bed.

As Alex navigates single life, long-buried family secrets, and part-time fatherhood, his son begins playing Minecraft. Sam’s imagination blossoms and the game opens up a whole new world for father and son to share. Together, they discover that sometimes life must fall apart before you can build a better one.

Inspired by the author’s own relationship with his autistic son, A Boy Made of Blocks is a tear-jerking, funny, and, most, of all true-to-life novel about the power of difference and one very special little boy.

I have been so excited about reading A Boy Made of Blocks ever since it was announced on Twitter what seems like ages ago, and so I was thrilled to receive a review copy. I know a couple of people who have an autistic child and whilst it's always been clear to me what a struggle this can be for them, at the same time the love they show for their children and the special bond that they clearly have with them has always been something I have been in awe of. This book is inspired by Keith Stuart's own relationship with his autistic son and I think this is why it was so good. It wasn't somebody writing about something for an effect that they know nothing about, but someone who has been there, lived (and still lives) it and then uses that to write an ultimately uplifting tale that I think could help every parent of an autistic child better than any doctor or self-help book ever could.

I especially liked that our main character was a man, as this just helped me to connect with the story more. Alex is by no means an instantly likeable character, in fact some of his thought processes and the way he acted at times made him in my eyes dislikeable but it's all part of the journey that he goes on throughout the story. Alex is the father of eight-year-old Sam who has autism. Alex is thrown out by his wife and moves in with his irresponsible (but brilliant) best friend Dan whose role in the story I loved. We soon learn more about Alex's relationship with his wife who, I have to be honest I very much disliked for about the first half of this book (at least) and who only really redeemed herself towards the end. Where I at times found Alex to not be very likeable was how he would constantly try and think of excuses about why he couldn't look after Sam, or how when he was with him he really didn't want to be there. It almost felt as if he didn't want to be a dad to a child whatsoever rather than a dad to an autistic child. This story is however very much about Alex discovering himself and ultimately finding out how to be the best dad that he can possibly be, and I was rooting for him the whole way through, especially once it started to become clear why he acted the way he did at times. And so in hindsight Dan's reactions and thought processes were incredibly believable and he more than proves his worth as a dad numerous times throughout the story.

Alex soon finds out that Sam is a huge fan of Minecraft and this is where the story really shines. Alex himself soon starts to play Minecraft with Sam and they start to bond in ways they never have before. Sam is just the most wonderful character. And I think it was easier as a reader to judge the actions of the parents because I've never been in that situation myself. Their struggles and their anger was palpable, but so too was Sam's. His behaviour at school is sometimes questioned and this got me incredibly angry because I saw what was coming a mile off. Soon, so does Alex and his reaction really endeared me to him. I would hate to think of things like this happening to autistic children in supposedly 'normal' schools. Instead, I wanted Sam to be given the time to shine because he was a truly clever and talented individual and his parents recognised this. I don't want to say too much about how Minecraft is used in the story but I loved how at times Sam faced some kind of difficulty in the game but rather than just doing it for him or glossing over it, Alex helped Sam and it was almost used as a metaphor for facing up to the difficulties of everyday life and not just those faced in the game.

A Boy Made of Blocks isn't an emotional read in the sense that it's gratuitously sad and like certain other books it isn't written solely to get a reaction from the reader, but it is extremely emotional because of how real the story felt. Because of how real the characters felt. As I got nearer to the end of the story, I almost didn't want it to end because I was really enjoying reading the story of Alex and Sam. The last couple of chapters actually had genuine tears streaming down my face. Again, not because it's sad but because there's just some heartwarmingly beautiful scenes.

A Boy Made of Blocks is a book that I cannot recommend enough. Accessible by those who live with autism, those who think they know autism, or those who know nothing about autism. All will come away from the story with a greater understanding of it, and I certainly will remember this story for a long time thanks to the brilliant characters of Sam and Alex. This book was the perfect pick me up and just what I needed to read at the minute and I am so glad that I did. An unforgettable story that every reader will just fall in love with.

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