Shtum by Jem Lester

  Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: autism, boy, school, fight, funding

Shtum is an emotional book about one couple’s fight to get their autistic son into an appropriate school.

One of my sons has Asperger’s so I have become friends with many other people whose children have autism. I’ve been to numerous support groups where I’ve heard stories about the battle parents face to get the support their children need. These groups are incredibly distressing to attend and the suffering these parents and children have to endure is shocking. Shtum gives a realistic portrait of the difficulties faced by these families. It is well researched and follows a path similar to many of the people I’ve met.

Unfortunately I think I’m too close to this subject to enjoy reading about it. Everyone on Twitter seems to love it – raving about the way the humour is mixed with the sadness. I’m afraid I am too aware of the reality behind the situation to find any of it funny and I found the whole reading experience distressing.

‘We’re being punished because we love and care for him and he’s not as good at autism as he could be.’ ‘He’ll never play autism for England.’
‘It’s like they’re persecuting us for not being completely destroyed by the situation. Things aren’t bad enough, yet. He doesn’t need to wear a crash helmet or headphones and we aren’t crack addicts.’ ‘Yet.’

The author clearly has experience of living with an autistic child, but sadly I found the whole story predictable. There was just something too ordinary about it. Unlike the magnificent, sadly underrated, The Mouseproof Kitchen by Saira Shah, it offered me no new insight – or uplifting side story to counterbalance the misery.

I’m really pleased that so many people are reading this book and enjoying it. Anything that improves society’s knowledge of autism is a good thing. It’s just sad that I’ve heard similar stories in real life far too many times before.

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The Thoughts of Other Bloggers

…an extraordinary, heart-rending story… The Book Magnet

It manages to be incredibly moving without ever feeling sentimental, and despite the often tough subject matter it’s frequently very funny. Breakfast at Libraries

…be prepared: it will break your heart into a million pieces and it will take one small piece away, so your heart will never be the same. Book Nerd Mermaid


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4 Comments

  1. Kailana says:

    This is actually the first I am hearing of this. I so live under a rock nowadays… I would be curious to see what I think of it. The guys nephew is autistic so while he is around occasionally, it is not the same thing as being around all the time… I do know some stories, though…

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I think this book is great for anyone who isn’t too close to the subject matter. You’ll probably find it funny and informative. I look forward to seeing what you think!

  2. Athira says:

    I know what you mean about being too close to a subject to be able to appreciate it. But… I find that when I read a book on subject X, I always want to hear what another person close to the subject thought of it. Some books out there are manipulative, over-dramatic, and exploitative. I do agree that any book that gets the society more educated is a good thing, no matter how it’s written. But I always crave that extra verdict. With that said, I totally appreciated your thoughts on this book. I will have to check Mouseproof Kitchen for sure.

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, Yes, we all bring different things to a book so it is nice to know what those who are familiar with a subject make of it – knowing that it can also be very useful for those who aren’t as informed. I hope you decide to read ‘Mouseproof Kitchen’ and enjoy it as much as I did.

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