Book Review: Shtum by Jem Lester

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Title - Shtum
Author - Jem Lester
Publication Date - April 7th 2016
Publisher - Orion
Format - Kindle Edition (Provided by publisher)
Pages - 368

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point.

His ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken. So when Ben and Jonah are forced to move in with Ben's elderly father, three generations of men - one who can't talk; two who won't - are thrown together.

As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult lessons.

Jonah, blissful in his ignorance, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.

Funny and heart-breaking in equal measure, Shtum is a story about families, forgiveness and finding a light in the darkest days.

Where on earth do I begin with this one? I'm not even sure if there's an ending and a beginning. I was crying into my pillow at stupid o'clock last night when I turned the final page of Shtum by Jem Lester, because it's been such a long time since I came across a novel that managed to move me in the way that this one did. I'd seen plenty of bloggers within the book community talking about it, and it was certainly on my radar, but when offered the chance to read a review copy, I couldn't say yes quick enough. One of the things I'm so very grateful for is the opportunity to read books before they hit the shelves. This one? Incredibly so.

Shtum by Jem Lester follows the Jewell family. Newly-separated from his wife, Emma, for reasons revealed within the novel, Ben and Jonah share Mr Jewell Senior's home for the foreseeable future. The novel packs an almighty, emotional punch from just the first pages and my heart remained in a tight knot for the rest of the duration. Autism is something which lies incredibly close to my heart, so perhaps that's why I took to it so keenly? But then again, saying that, whether it was something you were close to or not, I believe this story could tangle you up within it's clasp regardless. Lester doesn't hold back with the details, but as rings true with real life, it is the details that enable your mind to remember certain things. We meet Jonah in the first chapter. We meet Ben and Emma's struggle in the first chapter, too. It becomes evident immediately that there is a routine in place, there's a certain way to how they do things. It needs to be that way in order to help their son, they believe. But the strings that would otherwise bind this family together are beginning to tug loose. They are not okay.

That's one of the spectacular things we witness within this novel. I don't think I've ever been granted such a view into a family before now. It was hard-hitting, raw and incredibly powerful. Jem Lester takes us as close as he can possibly, possibly get to Ben, Emma and Jonah. We're given an insight that I really didn't prepare myself for, an insight I'm still spinning from now. It was intense, yet tender at the same time. How can that be? Well, Jem Lester is clearly a bloody brilliant author.

As Ben, Jonah and Georg's story progresses, the reader is witness to a number of things going on in the Jewell's lives. Not only is Ben battling to have Jonah moved to a better, safer, and happier place to learn and play, but there are medical heartaches, the breakdown of a marriage, friendship, career and so much more. Lester packs a serious punch with this novel. It puts into perspective what is truly important in the most beautiful and tragic of ways. There's an untold story within a story, which is amazing in itself. There are long-hidden secrets, secrets that make your gut clench with sadness and regret once revealed. This is a novel that pinpoints and picks apart those aspects of life that act as the foundations holding up who we really are as individuals.

And at the heart of this whirlwind of a novel stands Jonah Jewell. Doesn't speak a word, yet seems to say an epic proportion. Through Jonah, Georg and Ben begin to communicate. Through Jonah, a battle begins. Through Jonah, Ben is pushed to his very limits, but at the end of it all, finally realises who he really is deep down and what he is capable of. Although Jonah doesn't speak, his heart speaks volumes and he absolutely bowled me over. This entire novel did. I'm even going to have to come back to this review to add more as it comes to me. It was beautiful, stunning, heartbreaking. It moved me to tears. It was a demonstration of a father's love for his son. It was real and vivid and oh-so-striking, and will remain within me for years and years to come. Jem Lester, I applaud you. This is the type of novel that I want to tell people about but can't find the words to describe it. I hope I've managed to somehow convey my love through this review. THANK YOU!

Becca's Books is awarding Shtum by Jem Lester with five stars. And that is all. Because I really, really don't know what else to say, other than that it was incredible. Huge thanks to Sam Eades for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.



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