Review – A Boy Made Of Blocks by Keith Stuart

A Boy Made Of Blocks coverTitle: A Boy Made of Blocks
Author: Keith Stuart
Publisher: Little, Brown
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: September 1, 2016
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 400 pages
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Review Summary: A sweet story about a father who connects with his autistic son by using the Minecraft game.

Plot Summary/Description

Bringing up an autistic child isn’t easy. Alex leaves it all to his wife. So he has no real connection with his 8-year-old son Sam, and his marriage is breaking up under the strain. He moves out to sleep on his best friend’s floor, and from this new life he tries to build some kind of relationship with Sam.

It seems a hopeless task until Sam and Alex discover Minecraft. Sam’s imagination comes to life, and he allows his dad to help him. Slowly, they connect on a level Alex would never have imagined.

A Boy Made Of Blocks Review

This book was inspired by the author’s relationship with his own autistic son, and that makes it both true-to-life and sometimes painful. But it’s also often very funny. Like life, really – painful and funny!

Before they separate, Alex’s wife Jody’s life is dominated by dealing with young Sam, and Alex is working at a mind-numbing job. After the separation, Alex tries to rebuild bridges with both Jody and Sam. The distance helps him to do this, although whether it helps Jody is another question! However, it was great to see a man leaving a marriage physically but not leaving it emotionally. They do work at it.

When Sam discovers Minecraft and begins building things in that virtual world, he needs technical support that Jody has no idea how to give – but Alex does. This gives Sam a reason to value his father and Alex a way to communicate with his son.

The book contains a lot of little episodes in the struggle of living with autism, both for the autistic child and his parents. It all feels very real because we know the author has an autistic son himself. Of course, not all autistic kids are alike, and a lot of books and movies present one (often extreme) example and allow readers/viewers to believe all autistic people are like this – especially by giving the idea that autism always involves some kind of Rainman-like genius. This book doesn’t do this, which is great.

It’s a heart-warming story with a satisfying ending. Everything is neatly concluded – perhaps a little too neatly, but that’s better than leaving a ton of loose ends in my opinion.

Expect to shed tears 🙂

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Review – The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. LeRoy

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things coverTitle: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Author: J.T. LeRoy
Publisher: Little, Brown
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: 2002 (new edition August 4th, 2016)
Genre: GLBTQ, Short Stories
Length: 280 pages
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Review Summary: A very powerful set of linked stories about a boy whose teenage mother pulls him from his foster home and goes on the run with him. Gritty and hard-hitting.

Plot Summary/Description

Jeremiah has spent his life in foster care, until his young mother comes to get him and they go on the run. Life with Sarah is not easy, involving drugs, motels and truckstops, a succession of boyfriends who are often abusive, and constant chaos and confusion. Somehow, Jeremiah has to learn to survive, and find his own identity.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things Review

This is an immensely powerful episodic narrative. Terrible things happen to Jeremiah over and over. He’s snatched from any secure way of life again and again – usually moving from one kind of abuse to another. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t grow up with much sense of self-worth, but he does develop a strong bond with his drug-addicted mother. He also grows up gay/transgender/queer – I don’t think he ever specifies how he identifies.

I found it very painful to read, because it’s so vivid. Are there really kids living like this? I guess there are, even though this book and the author’s other novel, Sarah, became notorious when it was revealed that the author, who claimed to be a young man whose work was based on his own life, was in fact a middle-aged woman using a family member to act the part of J.T. LeRoy for interviews and such. There’s no problem in authors having pen names, and there’s a long history of women using male names because they know their work will be taken more seriously (George Eliot springs to mind), but using an actor to convince the world the stories are based on real events and the young genius actually exists is another matter.

This edition was published to coincide with a movie about the author, Laura Albert, and her questionable marketing tactics, Author: The JT LeRoy Story. I believe she said that she felt she was “channeling” J.T. and that she didn’t feel like the author of the books at all, so it all seeemed okay. I wonder if she found a way to “channel” the royalties back to him… Whatever, I find the whole story fascinating and have no problem with it.

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Review – Rites of Passage by William Golding

Rites of PassageTitle: Rites of Passage
Series: To the Ends of the Earth, #1
Author: William Golding
Publisher: various
Our rating: 5 stars

Publication date: 1980
Genre: Literary fiction, historical with LGBT interest
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Rites of Passage Review Summary: Stunning and sad historical prizewinning novel set on a ship bound for Australia in the early 19th century. The arrogant upper class narrator is unintentionally hilarious, but it’s really the story of the young parson Mr Colley and his catastrophic wish to please.

Plot Summary/Blurb

In a makeshift cabin on a stinking former warship bound for the new colony of Australia, an educated young man writes a journal to entertain his godfather back in England. With a mixture of wit and arrogance he records mounting tensions on board, as an obsequious clergyman attracts the dangerous animosity of the tyrannical captain and surly crew.

Rites of Passage Review

Young Edmund Talbot is on his way to Australia to take up a post in the government there. He’s well-connected but not rich, and has been sponsored by his godfather, to whom he addresses the diary that he writes on board.

We get a strong sense of the snobbish young aristocrat who clearly thinks he’s the most important person on the ship. Both he and a newly-ordained young parson, Mr Colley, offend the captain with their different demands: Edmund’s focused on his status and comfort, Mr Colley’s on his wish to provide religious services for the passengers and crew.

Poor Mr Colley is desperate to be liked and accepted, especially by Edmund, since he agrees with Edmund’s own view of his status, and by a certain handsome young crew member. But it’s his mistakes in approaching the captain that ultimately bring about the tragic ending.

The ship was formerly a warship; the captain is hostile to passengers. What starts as an unpleasant situation becomes dangerous. In that respect it’s like Golding’s Lord of the Flies – a group of people isolated by circumstances move closer and closer to savagery – although the tone and style are completely different.

This is the first in a series of three novels about Edmund Talbot and his trip to Australia. The character of Edmund is well developed with him becoming older, wiser and humbled by the events of the book. It’s a very convincing sea-going historical read with an LGBT theme in a subplot (but don’t expect a happy ending).

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