Ben Jewell’s ten-year-old son, Jonah, has never spoken. He is profoundly autistic. In order to get him into the residential home he and his wife think is best for him, his wife tells him they have to split up. That it’s just for a while, that their appeal will stand more chance this way.
Now he’s living with his elderly father, and he’s hit breaking point. Was his wife lying? Has she left him for good? As Ben battles single fatherhood, his stubborn and disappointed father, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some painful home truths. If he can just win this appeal though, maybe everything will turn out ok…
This is Jem Lester’s debut novel, and it’s a powerful one. Often these days fiction depicts those on the autistic spectrum as tortured geniuses, and it’s true that many are high functioning and incredibly talented or intelligent. But it’s also true that many autistic children are locked in their own worlds and find dealing with people confusing and frustrating. They become overwhelmed and lash out, at others and at themselves. Jonah is this kind of autistic, not the glamourous kind but the sort that still wears a nappy at ten years of age but sadly not quite often enough.
Though Jonah’s autism is pivotal to the plot, it isn’t the be all and end all of this novel. The real star (or rather anti-hero) of this is Ben Jewell. The way Jem Lester writes this character is exceptional. We’re drip-fed bits of information on his character and how he’s coped with parenting his child and in all honesty the more we learn the less we should like him. But the sense that he’s redeemable and the deep love he has for his son carries him through.
There is ugliness in this book, but it is truthful ugliness, and that makes it a thing of extreme beauty.
NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews