July – Shtum

What can I say? July has been really exciting, this month saw the first discussion for our Facebook ‘online book club’. The group currently has 34 members and approximately 1/3 of those joined in the discussion. As for the meeting at my house, it was a big one, everyone wanted to discuss these books, so most of the group turned up. We laughed, we cried (welled up), we made plans for our own ashes (Saving June), and we shared our experiences of Autism. The meeting over ran, because we each had so much to add to the discussion, and I was reminded of how wonderfully diverse our fabulous group is.

Shtum – Jem Lester

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Shtum is a tough read, it takes us on the rollercoaster ride with Jonah’s parents, who are trying to get the right support/education for a child with Autism. This was incredibly well written on an emotional level, only someone who had actually experienced Autism first hand, and the effect it can have on a family dynamic could have written this well. It was clear that Jem Lester understood both the difficulties of living with a child with Autism, and also the issues with taking on the system, and getting the help that you need for your child in this country.

I identified with this story so much, as my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 6, and I could see in Jonah a lot of my son at that age. My son is now 12 and is doing well in mainstream education,  but there was a time when I worried that he would not. The violence unleashed on his family when Jonah had a meltdown was all too familiar to me, having spent three years covered in bruises myself when my boy was young, and to be honest revisiting this when reading such a perceptive book was really hard.

The attempts by the authorities in this story to shoe horn Jonah into a school that was wholly unsuitable for him was heartbreaking. I have seen this sort of thing happen, it always comes down to money, and families don’t get the support that they need because some authority figure with a limited understanding of the situation, and a perfect little life makes decisions based mainly on what is best for their budget, with the child’s needs coming second. Why people should have to fight such long and painful battles to get their children what they need is beyond me, but this book reflected that beautifully.

The characters in the book are all flawed, which made them interesting, if not always likeable. My opinions of characters changed often as the first person narrative revealed more information about each of them. The groups, both at my house and online loved this book, giving it an average rating over all of 4.5*, I gave it 4* personally, as although the writing was good in the sense that it felt real, it wasn’t a beautifully written book. Shtum is certainly a book worth reading, and particularly if you know little about Autism, as the insight is fabulous.

Saving June – Hannah Harrington

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Saving June is the story of Harper and her journey to California to scatter her sister’s ashes. June has committed suicide, and Harper is determined to take her to the place she always longed to be. Harper feels that this will, in some way allow her sister to finally be happy and that she must take her there, to atone for being nasty to June the last time she saw her. Driven by survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that her relationship with her sister could have been closer, June sets off with her best friend and one of June’s friends.

This journey is both physical and spiritual for Harper, an outsider, who doesn’t usually take risks. Travelling from Chicago to California in an old van with a guy you barely know and your sister’s ashes in the back, didn’t seem like something Harper would do, but this was a pilgrimage that she felt she had to make. En route to California, they attend a protest march and a punk rock concert (where the story kind of takes an unrealistic turn), and Harper gets to know Jake, and learns about his past. Meanwhile back at home, Harper’s Mum and Aunt are left wondering where the hell she is and what is going on.

Notably, this book is young adult (teen) fiction, and as such does not have the depth that an adult requires from a book with this subject matter. Suicide is not explored fully, the absolute despair and devastation that it brings to those left behind are not felt by the reader. This being the case, the readers in the group felt that it was missing something, although we pretty much all agreed that it was not terrible and it didn’t offend us in any way, so we gave it an average rating of 2.5* (which is what I gave it). The online group also gave the book scores of between 2* – 3*, it is a good book, it is not great, and it is not really engaging enough for adult readers.

Happy Reading!
Mel x