TSWS: Shtum by Jem Lester

Article published on April 14, 2016.

What a wonderful book this is. Where to begin? Essentially it’s the story of Jonah Jewell, a profoundly autistic 10 year old boy. Jonah is due to move on to secondary school and his parents are not happy with what the local authority can provide, so start a lengthy, expensive and emotionally charged appeal to get him a place at a specialist school. The book is so much more than that though. Jonah’s dad, Ben is a rather likeable character, though he seems bent on self destruction with alcohol and not paying attention to his family business. Jonah and Ben end up living with Ben’s elderly father, Georg.

Ben and Georg have a difficult relationship, but as the book concludes we learn about the horrific circumstances of his early life. I just loved everything about this book, it made me laugh and cry in equal measure. It should really have been quite depressing, but was anything but. It made me want to cheer for Jonah and really was extremely uplifting. The biggest theme throughout the book is Ben’s unwavering love for his son whatever challenges he throws at him.

I wasn’t keen on the character of Jonah’s mum, Emma, at first but once we realise just how broken she is by the whole situation I warmed to her. Most of the book is from Ben’s point of view but we get to see copies of letters and reports on Jonah to fill in the gaps. One of the most moving parts is when Ben is talking to the appeal panel and reads a letter as if it had been read by Jonah. Of course poor Jonah has no way to express himself but I did think Ben knew exactly what he would say if he could speak.

An absolutely fantastic book, I know it will be compared to A Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, but as the professionals say, if you meet an autistic child, you have only met that child, each autistic child is different. So it is with the two stories, both quite different but each capturing what it is to be autistic.

Fiona Atley
Personal 5
Group 5


TSWS: Shtum by Jem Lester


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