I received a copy of this via NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.
First of all, let me say that I absolutely loved this book. Loved it.
As the book opens, Alex and Jody are having a tough time and Alex is moving out to give them some space. It feels like it’s more Jody’s idea than Alex’s, but he sees the reason. Alex and Jody have a son, a son who suffers with Autism, and the daily strain has just become too much for them to carry on the way they have been doing. It’s a familiar story, Mum gives up work to be with baby and Dad, unable to cope, or admit he’s struggling, spends every waking hour at work, justifying it by saying he’s earning for his family. So Alex moves in with his friend Dan – and things taken a turn for the worse very quickly indeed.
Alex comes across as quite selfish to begin with, and we understand why Jody is so exasperated. However, it becomes clear that Alex has issues with making the way he thinks manifest into real life actions – rather than do or say what he wants to, he panics, and does or says precisely the wrong thing – pretty much every time leading to yet another argument, or sigh, or shrug of the shoulders. Moments are lost, and Alex just doesn’t know what to do to make it right.
He has always felt that his son’s Autism is something he has to ‘deal’ with. It’s as if the condition hides the boy from his view, he can’t see the personality underneath the wall that Sam builds up around him, and rather than try to get involved in his life, he shies away. He misses Jody and Sam terribly while they are estranged, but will say he is not available to look after his son if the chance arises. It becomes obvious that he’s scared, and doesn’t know how to get over that.
Then, Minecraft enters Sam’s life. Alex is concerned that he will lose Sam even more once his new x-box grabs hold of him, but something magical happens. Sam can transfer his linear and logical thinking, along with his almost photographic memory into the game, and build wonderful things, plan, become resourceful. Slowly – very slowly at first, Sam overcome some of his fears. It’s not a magic wand by any shot, but when Alex gets involved after a very touching moment in Sam’s bedroom, he then begins to play online from Dan’s flat and it becomes a world where Father and Son can spend hour after hour together. They build, they farm the land, they build structures, and as Sam begins to build his confidence and face his fears within the game, he translates this to his real life and the connection between Alex and Sam begins to grow and evolve into something wonderful. Sam starts to understand that bad things happen, but it’s not the end of the world. As he is able to cope with things happening in the game, he becomes braver, and more capable of embracing the world outside his bedroom.
This book was wonderful to read, sad, funny, frustrating and emotional. There are times you want to shake Alex and other times when you wonder how you would cope in his situation. There are some incredibly touching exchanges between Alex and Sam and one in particular, involving a ‘pat’ on the back (which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers!) which moved me to tears. It tugged on my heartstrings while avoiding being cheesy, and the subplots run alongside Sam’s story perfectly.
I would highly recommend this book for anyone with children, parents, siblings, friends – in fact, anyone who has ever had a relationship with another human being – because that’s what it is about – the relationships between all of the main characters, in particular, a stressed out Mum and Dad and a very special, and much loved little boy.