Shtum. by Jem Lester

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Shtum. by Jem Lester

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sophie Diamond
Reviewed by Sophie Diamond
Summary: Simultaneously devastating and uplifting, this important story will go straight to your heart and won't leave in a hurry.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781409162988

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Jonah Jewell is ten years old; he likes Marmite sandwiches, being outside and sticking exactly to his routine. He cannot speak but he communicates his wants and needs clearly. The adults in his life do nothing but speak but they do not communicate nearly as effectively as Jonah. While functioning from the outside, this is the story of a family falling and tearing each other apart. Ben Jewell needs to fight for his son and by doing so needs to learn how to fight for himself.

Jonah's severe autism is a shocking subject matter and Lester makes no attempt to soften the blow. While the Jewells love Jonah, his autism is devastating and even though the council tells the family they're coping, they are not. This is a hard story to read; it's beautifully written and engrossing but it's so painfully honest about human and system failings that it hits you in the chest.

When Ben takes Jonah go and live with his father in a last ditch effort to get help, old wounds that have never healed reopen. The relationships between the three men are the most fascinating part of the story. Ben was raised by his dad Georg, a Hungarian Jew who fled from the Nazis and Ben resents him for never communicating his love. He is a jealous of the way Georg can communicate with his son, that he loves him more. Georg is trying to help, but his help wounds Ben's ego and round in a circle they go.

Ben is a wonderfully frustrating protagonist. While I sympathised with him the whole way through, I wanted to shake him and make him pull himself together. Georg was fascinating, his Jewishness was so brilliantly captured and his history was beautifully entwined with Jonah and Ben's story. To me, Georg was the hero of the book.

This story is so so moving. Despite being heartbreaking it's also uplifting and darkly funny. This is a book that makes you feel every word, which is just what we need in an increasingly apathetic world. This is a book about communication and I can't find strong enough words to tell you how much I loved it.

I cannot get this book out of my head and I don't think I will for a long time. Absolutely everyone should read it. It's so honest and raw that it's utterly terrifying. This family could be anyone, it could be your neighbours, your friends or even you and it's something we need to talk about more.

Thank you to the Bookbag, the author and the publisher for my review copy. If you liked the sound of this book, I think you would also really enjoy My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher an absolutely wonderful book about a unique family. We can also recommend The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves.

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Buy Shtum. by Jem Lester at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shtum. by Jem Lester at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Shtum. by Jem Lester at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Shtum. by Jem Lester at


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