A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
A Boy Made of Blocks is the debut novel from The Guardian’s gaming journalist, Keith Stuart. The book is based on real-life experiences he shared with his own son.
Only when Alex is asked to leave his family home, does he really start to reflect on the life he could have had. His eight-year-old son Sam was born with autism and to pay the bills and keep a home over their head he had knuckled down in a job he never wanted. His wife was left to care for their son. Only she knew how to handle the tantrums, the hysterical crying, the violent rages. Only she stayed calm during the constant repetitive questions or embarrassing outbursts, But as he sleeps on the floor of his best friends painfully modern apartment he realises he never gave Sam a chance, he only ever walked away from his son when he needed him. His own paralysing fear of damaging his family had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
After a couple of weeks wallowing in self-pity, getting drunk and generally regressing, Alex pulls himself together. The one thing that had made his son open up recently was a computer game, he’d become obsessed with the world of Minecraft. The Swedish computer game gave his son a chance to create, build and explore, all within the safety of his own home and at his own speed. With a new found desire to genuinely connect with his son, he starts to play that game himself. The game helps him see the world through his son’s eyes and not only does he get to know Sam but starts to truly love and appreciate him.
At first, it’s hard to feel for Alex, a thirty-something man who has managed to avoid the responsibilities a child with autism brings. But as the story unfolds you’re given glimpses into a tragic event in his past that has moulded the way he thinks. His history explains some of his actions and as you follow his genuine efforts to change, you warm to him more and more. His efforts don’t always run smoothly and his anxiety and stress don’t help him become the father he wants to be but he learns from his mistakes and keeps going.
What seeps through every page is an unwavering honesty about the situation. When his fears are selfish or he doubts his son’s ability to cope, he admits this openly. Keith Stuart is writing from experience with this story and it shows. Both his own sons are on the autism spectrum and it is the relationship they have through computer games that inspired this novel. It is hugely refreshing to read a novel (or anything mainstream for that matter!) which represents computer games in such a positive light, uniting families instead of diving them.
Both a story of redemption with an unlikely hero and a heart-warming tale that will make you chuckle and tear-up in equal measures, A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart is an outstanding debut.
If you like this, you’ll love Shtum by Jem Lester.