Friday, 12 August 2016

Book Review: A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stuart. A journey of self discovery and family through Minecraft.

A Boy Made of Blocks.

Thanks to the tremendous folks at Netgalley and the publishing bods at St Martin’s Press, I have had the privilege of reading this truly heartwarming book in return for an honest review. The premise is simple: Despairing Father seeks any way to reach and interact with his autistic son.

When you join our hero,the slightly discombobulated, highly anxious and emotionally distant  young man whose journey we are going to join in with for the entirety of this story, I was not sure I could relate, but in actual fact Alex turns out to be ok…

Because this is not really the story of Sam, the lovable, sweet little boy that at first glance seems so remote from the world, although he is so desperately important as the driving force and the catalyst, it is the story of Alex  young father, set adrift in his life whose own journey of discovery is far more complex and emotionally wrought.

Sam is  a beautifully complex puzzle, but when he is in his comfort zone he is content.  He is able to find order and peace and whilst autism is still a condition that strikes a shiver of fear into any parent’s heart when they have a diagnosis that their child has been placed somewhere along the spectrum, at least routines can be adapted and processes put in place to try to keep emotions level and trauma at bay.

Not so I fear for us “normal” folk. And this is where the book really shines. It is Alex that really has the longest journey, the biggest quest to fulfil , because his problems are not really about a lack of connection with his son, because as the story unfolds we see , he always had inroads to him, but it is his fear of losing control, of not being able to keep a handle on the situation that is his stumbling block.  (See I did it, managed to use a block as an analogy and we have not even got to Minecraft yet!)

Alex has deep seated issues with helplessness borne of a tragic childhood trauma, he and his sister Emma  have both failed to truly cope in the face of it and the guilt they feel so that a chasm had formed between them and their seemingly totally together Mother and this pattern of emotional estrangement has leached into his relationship with Jody his wife who feels isolated and alone.

Yes poor Alex has got himself into a bit of a pickle.

Thank God for Minecraft!  The simplicity of the premise of a game that is basically a  multiple material electronic Lego set, is the magical key to unlock everything. The rules and structure are perfect for Young Sam, the imagination required to build opens channels of communication between father and son, the ability to play together in harmony, the Facing of dangers in the game creates patterns to face real dangers in the real world and the ability to do things over when  disaster hits are life lessons that Alex needs to learn as much as his special Son.

This book made me smile and many a lump appeared in my throat  throughout, but one chapter Obliterated all and left me blubbing  so hard I had to step away and brew some tea. I do not have personal experience with Autism or Aspergers, but I do know the healing power of gaming on a troubled mind thanks to the experiences of a loved one and so to know that the story was inspired by true events is heartwarming and inspirational. I happily give this book and Keith Stuart a resounding five stars.

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