Alex loves his family, and yet he struggles to connect with his eight-year-old autistic son, Sam. The strain has pushed his marriage to the breaking point. So Alex moves in with his merrily irresponsible best friend on the world’s most uncomfortable blow-up bed.
As Alex navigates single life, long-buried family secrets, and part-time fatherhood, his son begins playing Minecraft. Sam’s imagination blossoms and the game opens up a whole new world for father and son to share. Together, they discover that sometimes life must fall apart before you can build a better one.
This book is inspired by the author’s own experiences with his autistic son, which helps to make this a realistic and heartfelt novel about love and acceptance.
Alex has always struggled to come to terms with his son’s autism but his failure and frustration has also resulted in damaging his relationship with his wife. The tension between the two, has a detrimental effect on Sam, which of course creates a vicious circle. The answer, is to ask Alex to leave which he reluctantly does, moving in with his childhood friend. What follows is an attempt to understand what went wrong and how, if possible, he can put it right. The problem is complicated by the fact that in order to love others, you have to love yourself, and Alex’s problem goes back much further to the loss of his brother George.
The breakthrough comes, when Sam discovers Minecraft, which results in the opportunity to have a shared activity which Alex uses to build not just an imaginary world, but a sometimes fragile, but growing, real life relationship. As their relationship develops, so too does Alex’s awareness of what is actually required from him and how he’s been falling woefully short. The question is, is it too little, too late or is there a future not just for him and Sam, but also for his marriage to Jody.
I adored this book, and I will admit I didn’t originally expect too. A story about a family falling apart and an obsession with a computer game, didn’t immediately sell itself too me. However having seen the reviews my interest was piqued and all I can say, is that if you have similar misgivings, cast them aside – now. This is a beautifully written, heartwarming book about a father developing a relationship with his son. While this relationship has obviously been hampered by the very real complications brought about by his son’s autism, it still identifies very real life lessons that are applicable to any relationship.
Alex is not always a sympathetic character, initially I just wanted to shout at him for his apparent selfishness, but as we begin to appreciate his back story, he’s easier to understand and warm to. His inability to bond with Sam, while perhaps understandable is also not just about Sam’s autism. The reality is that bringing up any child can be hard, but while Sam’s autism perhaps makes it harder for Alex, I wonder whether Alex uses it as an excuse to avoid getting involved. It’s only as a fragile bridge is built that Alex recognises it isn’t about what he wants, but what Sam needs.
The character that undoubtedly stole my heart was Sam. I can’t begin to understand what it’s like to live with autism, and as each person may be on a different place on the spectrum, this book gives you just a glimpse of what it’s like for Sam. Needless to say, I just wanted him to be happy, to find a way for him to be comfortable in his skin, and to find a way to make friends and build relationships that will enable him to move forward in life. These are life skills, which all children have to learn, but most do it without being hampered by a condition that makes you scared of the world, of noise, of physical contact and of rules that everyone seems to understand but you. If nothing else I would hope this book makes us less judgemental of things we don’t understand and more understanding.
The book offers a very touching and insightful view on what it means to live with an autistic child, but it isn’t all tears and tantrums. There’s a lot of warmth, humour and a surprising discovery that Minecraft isn’t just a nerdy computer game. As well as following Alex and Sam on their journey of discovery, we also get to meet Alex’s friend Dan, his sister Emma and his Mum. They all have their own cameo roles to play in helping Alex understand himself and add an extra layer to the story that makes it a fuller, richer read.
In short, this is a book full of insight, warmth, love, honesty, laughter and tears. It has lessons for us all about building relationships, about accepting ourselves and others and for being thankful for family and friends.
I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley to review.