Shtum by Jem Lester

Ben and Emma are struggling to look after Jonah, their autistic son. He doesn’t speak, can’t use the toilet and is aggressive when he gets frustrated. He likes the outdoors, feathers and marmite on toast. He is due to move to secondary school but his parents don’t feel it is the right one for him. They have lodged an appeal to see if they can get him the care they think he deserves; a place in a residential school.

Emma decides they need to split up to get the support Jonah needs. Ben and Jonah move in with Ben’s dad, Georg, in the hope it will help their appeal. It’s clear that Ben has a strained relationship with his dad but Georg and Jonah seem a perfect fit. He welcomes them into his home and helps to care for Jonah whilst waiting for the case to go through.

The book is written from Ben’s perspective and includes letters from the relevant authorities. It is easy to get drawn into Jonah’s world and I really wanted to see him get the care that was right for him. Neither of his parents were perfect, but I can’t imagine I would be either facing the same situation. They seemed selfish and irresponsible at times; not pushing for Jonah’s sake but their own. Raising an autistic child has left them at breaking point and they are desperate for any help they can get.

Ben has quite an experience looking after Jonah with his dad’s help. Georg is the voice of reason and the real star of the book. He is far enough removed to tell the truth but also wants the best for his grandson. Georg was never really close to Ben, but shares a special bond with Jonah. Nothing is too much trouble for him but he won’t let people take advantage. It seems he is finally able to be a real father to Ben as an adult despite not being able to do so when he was younger. This is where a secondary, and somewhat more heartbreaking story comes in when you learn his family history.

I often write down a prediction when reading a book to see if it comes true at the end. This time I was miles off the mark. Ben and Georg turned the book from being a struggle through a court case into a touching story of the complexities of family relationships. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story which gave me more than I bargained for.
Shtum is published on the 6th of April and you can buy the book here Shtum on

I received this book from NetGalley.


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