If you’re a fan of Nick Hornby and David Nicholls you will love this book.
The book follows Alex, a thirty-something year old as he deals with the breakdown of his marriage to Jody, the reality of having a son, Sam, with autism and a whole manner of other life crises. Having hidden from Sam’s diagnosis behind work when Alex is made redundant and takes more responsibility for Sam’s childcare he is forced to reconsider how to connect with his son. Together they find a world within Minecraft where they can communicate and bond.
A Boy Made of Blocks is a humorous and heart-warming story. You immediately warm to Alex and whilst he sometimes leaves you wanting to bang your head against a brick wall at times with his hopeless outlook on life, you also find yourself championing him and cheering when things go right.
Written by journalist Keith Stuart the book is based on his own experience of playing Minecraft with his autistic son Zac. Stuart’s understanding of the frustrations, worries and celebrations of parents of a child with autism brings so much empathy and depth to this story. This book may reflect Stuart’s journey to connect with Zac via videogames but in creating such a carefully well-developed character as Sam Stuart displays to us his love and understanding of his own son.
A Boy Made of Blocks is tender but not soft. We’re taken on an emotional journey as Alex rebuilds his relationships but also as Sam develops. I found myself wanting to hold him and make it better when the world around him got to be too much but I also sat smiling to myself on more than one occasion when Sam opened up showing his sensitivity to and observations of the world and people around him. Whilst the premise of this book is about Alex’s attempt to reinvent his life Sam is as much a key player and I think one of the most touching things is how having the time and attention of his father helps Sam to bloom.
The father-son relationship is very much the focus of this book with other characters playing supportive roles. Jody, Dan, Emma, Matt, Clare – they all feel like return extras in a soap opera. We know a little about them but we never get their storyline they just feature in the main story of Alex and Sam. However, that is not necessarily a criticism as I fully believe Alex and Sam are all this book needs.
A Boy Made of Blocks made me laugh, it made me smile and at the very end it gave me goose bumps and a tear in my eye. This is a story that is filled with vulnerability, nervousness and love, emotions that feature in all of our lives whether we have a Sam or not. I think there is something special about a book when an author pours a little bit of their life into it and you can tell when reading this book that the characters and the story mean something to Stuart. They are a part of him and when you’ve finished reading you feel like they’re a part of you too.