After eight years of marriage, Alex Rowe is leaving his family, and not entirely by choice. His wife, Jody, has had it with the constant arguments and fights. What appears to be the cause is seven-year-old Sam. Sam is autistic.
The boy is determined to be at the higher-performance end of autism, but the simplest of activities or statements, or a food served in the wrong way, can set off out-of-control hysteria. He’s been mainstreamed into school, but that presents its own set of problems. The child craves control, in a world that seems out of control, at least to him. His parents, for different reasons, likely agree.
Alex moves in temporarily with Dan, a childhood friend. He’s trying to figure out how to get his life together when the second blow falls – he’s made redundant; i.e., he’s laid off. The problems and issues seem to be mounting, and he knows, sort of, that his basic problems lie in his distant past, with the death of his older brother George. Alex wants to remain a part of his son’s life, but that looks increasingly problematic.
Then Sam discovers the Minecraft video game. Alex begins to teach himself how to play it. And while it doesn’t happen in a straight line, things begin to change.
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart was something of a surprise best-seller when it was published in Britain in 2016. It shouldn’t have been. Stuart based the novel on his own experience, and the story rings true through to the very end. The reader not only learns about autism, but also walks with Alex as he gradually comes to understand what his son, and himself, are about.
Stuart is the games editor for The Guardian newspaper, and has written extensively on video games, digital culture, and film. His second book, Days of Wonder, is scheduled to be published in 2018. He and his family live in Somerset, England.
A Boy Made of Blocks is a moving, wonderful story of a family nearly wrecked by a child’s serious condition and adults still trying to come to grips with their own pasts, and their own serious problems. It’s a story that helps us understand what it is to be human.
Top photograph by Glenn Carsten-Peters via Unsplash. Used with permission.