Review: Shtum, by Jem Lester

25369192__UY2551_SS2551_Synopsis: Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope. When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

 

 

Title: Shtum
Author: Jem Lester
Publisher: Orion
Pub Date: 7 April 2016
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781409162988

Rating: 3stars

I was provided a review copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shtum
Definition: to be silent; non-communicative.

You should never judge a book by its cover. We all know the rule. Yet, I saw the title and the cover for this and just had to give it a go. I’ve been reading really slow-going literary books recently and thought a YA, no matter how depressing the subject matter, would make for a nice change.

Turns out I was right. This is a brilliant first novel; one which I found hard to put down – there was just never a comfortable place to take a break. You could say I had a serious case of ‘just one more chapter’.

The trio of characters – Ben, his father and Jonah work brilliantly together. Jonah doesn’t speak, Ben has difficulty opening up to his father and, in exchange, his father is a completely closed book to him. Hence… shtum.

Jonah’s relationship with his grandfather is, I think, one of my favourite things about the book. There’s something to say about the grandfather/grandchild bond that no parent, aunt/uncle or friend can compete with. And this is no different. Georg’s easy love for his grandchild, his protectiveness and the fun they have together is what makes this a lovely read.

My only criticism comes around the last 10% of the story. This is where we get the “what happened after the big event” breakdown and the few loose ends of the back story are tied up in a neat little bow. It’s all a bit too neat for my liking. It came across as disjointed and read like a different novel.

Though a sad read, Shtum deals with the difficult subject matter simply and effectively. It is not too heavy and can, at times, be quite light-hearted. A great read and a brilliant start from a new author.

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