A Tale of Growing Up and Remorse: a Review of Ponti by Sharlene Teo

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: April 19th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 304

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Blurb:

2003, Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into an intense friendship and offers Szu a means of escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness.

Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience.

Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti is about friendship and memory, about the things we do when we’re on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later. Beautifully written by debut author Sharlene Teo, and enormously atmospheric, Ponti marks the launch of an exciting new literary voice in the vein of Zadie Smith.

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When I first heard of SHARLENE TEO, a Singaporean-born author, releasing her debut general fiction Ponti, I was very intrigued. It’s amazing how more South East Asian authors are given the attention to shine in the publishing industry today.

Right off the bat Ponti is very nostalgic for me, being of South East Asian descent as well. I love Sharlene’s writing from the very beginning. She writes in this very familiar manner and of the wonderful things about being a South East Asian that pulls you into the book.

Her descriptions of Singapore in the late 80’s all the way to 2020 are very apt and appealing. I was constantly reminded of how much I loathed my secondary school in that nostalgic way that was described from Szu’s point of view. Everything else mentioned in this book – from the multiracial food and diverse languages and accents used – are reasons why we need more diverse reads like this.

Ponti gives a colourful representation to how a Singaporean/Malaysian teenager feels on a daily basis. You feel the loneliness among the chaotic hustle of living in a busy city like Singapore. And on top of that, I love all the pontianak references and stories, which are very well-known among Malays. I got chills at some parts of the book where paranormal events were explained. But I wished Sharlene had written more on the paranormal aspects since I cannot think of any other internationally-published book who would tell the tales bomohs, pontianak, orang minyak and such!

What I enjoyed the most in Ponti is the different narrations given by the three main female characters. We get to see Amisa in her youthful glory in the late 70’s, Szu as an awkward and struggling teenager in the early naughties, and Circe a newly divorcee in 2020. Each narrative brought different flavours into the book, giving us slices into what happened to each women at the end and how their lives heavily intertwined with each other. There weren’t much character development for each character, but each of their life struggles are something to appreciate. The way each women shaped their life based on major disappointments they’ve experienced would definitely appeal to the reader. The pain each person went through is very deeply felt, and what makes Ponti a worthwhile read.

Ponti‘s plot might be the only thing to disappoint you. But nothing else! Its lack of plot contributed to the slow-moving pace of this book, but with only 300 pages, Ponti won’t necessarily be a drag when you read it. While the book’s ending was pretty mysterious, I think it suited the entire vibe Ponti gave. It’s a book that makes you wonder what’s the real deal behind all three women and how it affected their lives. Although, I wish there was more depth to the story in all its entirety. I would have loved to know more of Amisa’s past and how Szu turned out in the future.

But overall, Ponti is a breath of fresh air in the book industry! I genuinely enjoyed reading Ponti and appreciating the similarities and cultures of South East Asian countries that I grew up with being reflected in this book. And I hope you enjoy it too!

Perfect for readers looking for diverse reads by writers of colour (WoC), Ponti is a great introduction to the busy Singaporean life and how three women learned to live with the consequences of the actions made by the other.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

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The Beauty of the Written Type: a Review of Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

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Genre:
General Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: William Heinneman
Publication date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 416

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Blurb:

A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

A hectic, funny sexual affair between two best friends. A World War II veteran dealing with his emotional and physical scars. A second-rate actor plunged into sudden stardom and a whirlwind press junket. A small-town newspaper columnist with old-fashioned views of the modern world. A woman adjusting to life in a new neighborhood after her divorce. Four friends going to the moon and back in a rocket ship constructed in the backyard. A teenage surfer stumbling into his father’s secret life.

These are just some of the people and situations that Tom Hanks explores in his first work of fiction, a collection of stories that dissects, with great affection, humour, and insight, the human condition and all its foibles. The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central. To many, typewriters represent a level of craftsmanship, beauty and individuality that is harder and harder to find in the modern world. In his stories, Mr Hanks gracefully reaches that typewriter-worthy level.

Known for his honesty and sensitivity as an actor, Mr Hanks brings both those characteristics to his writing. Alternatingly whimsical, moving and occasionally melancholy, Uncommon Type is a book that will delight as well as surprise his millions of fans. It also establishes him as a welcome and wonderful new voice in contemporary fiction, a voice that perceptively delves beneath the surface of friendships, families, love and normal, everyday behaviour.

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Uncommon Type is Tom Hank’s debut short stories collection featuring 17 short stories, including a screenplay and 3 newspaper articles. The short stories range between genres of general fiction, drama and scifi.

I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing because not many celebrities can write well without employing ghost writers. And Tom Hanks is no exception. He may be one of the best actors of our time, heck he’s definitely my favourite male actor, but writing is not his strongest talent despite what the praises at the back of this book say.

That said, he is one of those genuinely nice people who doesn’t get into anything shady, and you can’t help but to like him. He’s the buddy you want to have telling you stories of different types of typewriters even if typewriters have never interested you. And even if there wasn’t anything exceptional about Uncommon Type, I did enjoy reading it. I enjoyed a good half of the stories in Uncommon Type mainly for its simple plot and writing of various complex characters within the stories. Tom Hanks has this sensitivity in his writing to write about everyday life infused with domestic issues and suburban living, which I found enjoyable.

My favourite stories written by him were the simplest of them all: a boy discovering his father’s secret on his 19th birthday, a woman falling in love with a typewriter, a billionaire finding the meaning of life in the middle of nowhere…. And I realised I love simple stories as much as complex fantasy plots. There is something reassuring in every day life and the simple joys it bring. Hands down my favourite story is These Are The Meditations of My Heart.

Asides from that, I also loved how I kept hearing Tom Hanks’ voice as I read his stories. It didn’t come up for all the stories, but when it did it made the reading experience much more interesting! And if you ever come across an audiobook of Uncommon Type, I highly recommend you listen to it. I mean, who wouldn’t want Joe Foxx from You’ve Got Mail reading to them in that adorable voice of his? Also, you’ll enjoy reading random facts of typewriters in each story. Tom Hanks lay them out like Easter eggs for us to find among the stories and see how the story is related to each typewriter mentioned.

The only problem I had with Uncommon Type is how some stories fell bland to me and some weren’t really well thought out. Hanks definitely write general fiction better than scifi. He gave scifi a try and we got a few stories in that genre, but it didn’t really set in for me.  It definitely could have been better with some serious editing and restructuring.

But Uncommon Type is entertaining enough that you will find something to like in it. It took me almost 3 weeks to finish (gasp), but I’m glad I managed to finish all the 17 stories and write a decent review for it! Shout out to my friend who pushed me to finish that screenplay once and for all, lol thanks.

For fans of Tom Hanks, typewriters and short stories, Uncommon Type is a great read to spend weekends with if you want something light and easy to read.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

The Mortality of Living: a Review of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 352

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Blurb:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

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How do I explain how incredible The Immortalists is?

It is a story on family dynamics and the complex truth behind our abilities to decide our own fate. The Immortalists is the story of how the lives of 4 siblings changed forever after being given their death prophecies by a psychic. The story then begins to span over 5 decades, taking turns to reveal how each sibling lived and how they perceived their prophecy.

The Immortalists is a book that takes you by surprise and CHLOR BENJAMIN ties the book really well together. It took me one recommendation from Emma Roberts to try this book out, and I’m glad The Immortalists exceeded my expectations. The plot was simple – each sibling’s life would be revealed in order of death. And through that, complex characters were woven into the story in a way that allows us to see right through their insecurities and fears. Each sibling had their own troubled past added various threads into the book, giving us a chance to understand them deeper and see how humane they are. Each character was so unique from each other, but complemented the story so well tying in the entire family configuration and all its complexities.

The very best magic tricks, the kind Klara wants to perform, do not subtract from reality. They add.

And I love books like The Immortalists simply because it is the story of life. And how we choose to live it regardless the outcome. The Immortalists questions the possibility of us knowing our fate and choosing inevitable paths leading to it. Or do we really have a choice in changing the story line?

The Immortalists also deals with pretty complex topics, which I loved. For instance LGBT movement in San Francisco circa 1980’s was heavily highlighted in this book. Longevity research in primates was another topic well researched into. On top of that, religion relevancy was also discussed in The Immortalists and this was one of my favourite topics to dwell about as I read the book. The book explores difference between the older and newer generations’ views towards religion, and I found this particular topic to be very applicable today.

“I suppose I think we need God for the same reason we need art.”
“Because it’s nice to look at?”
“No.” Mira smiled.
“Because it shows us what’s possible.” 

Overall, The Immortalists was such a pleasure to read. It is the book you read to learn a little bit more about life and the fact that everyone is going through a battle oblivious to the general eye.

Perfect for fans of A Little Life, The Immortalists will make you think of how we live our lives to the fullest regardless the length, and how family dynamics are never simple.

 

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

The Bumblebee Stripes Take NYC: a Review of Still Me by Jojo Moyes

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: January 23rd, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 489

Series: Me Before You #3

Me Before You reviews:
#1 Me Before You
#2 After You

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Blurb:

Lou Clark knows too many things . . .

She knows how many miles lie between her new home in New York and her new boyfriend Sam in London.

She knows her employer is a good man and she knows his wife is keeping a secret from him.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to meet someone who’s going to turn her whole life upside down.

Because Josh will remind her so much of a man she used to know that it’ll hurt.

Lou won’t know what to do next, but she knows that whatever she chooses is going to change everything.

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Warning: Spoilers from Me Before You and After You

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“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” – Will Traynor, Me Before You

From the moment I turned to the first page of Still Me and I hear Lou’s voice in my head, I knew I’ve reconnected with an old, dear friend. That was my emotion the entire time I read Still Me. A part of me has found home in Lou’s life and her emotions have become my own.

Hands down Me Before You was truly heartbreaking for me and remains one of my favourite fiction/romance reads. Its sequel After You did not live up to the hype of its predecessor and whilst I could find reasons to enjoy it, After You felt very lackluster. But Still Me recovered the entire series back to its glory, because we get to see Lou in a new light which still feels oddly familiar.

But don’t be fooled by the blurb! While it gives off the vibe of a romance-y novel in the making, Still Me focuses more on Lou’s new adventure as the strong-headed Agnes Gopnik’s assistant. She finds herself in New York, a place where Will once worked and lived in years before. And as the months passed, Lou discovers more of herself and after a series of unfortunate events, finds herself questioning her true purpose in life.

And what Will actually meant when he said “Live Boldly, Clark“.

“I would have molded myself to fit him. I would have slowly shed the clothed that I loved, the things that I cared most about. I would have transformed my behavior, my habits, lost in the charismatic slipstream of his. I would have become a corporate wife, blaming myself for the bits of me that wouldn’t fit…”

I truly loved Still Me because we get to see how far Lou has come in figuring out what she wants in life – professionally and in relationships. As she realises how important it is to find a life purpose before diving into a relationship, I couldn’t help but feel a kindred spirit in Lou. Her babbling nature and outrageous bright outfits are a welcoming sight every time you turn the page in this book. It’s exactly like catching up with an old friend over a cup of tea.

Still Me brings more new characters into Lou’s life. Ambulance Sam plays a bigger role as we see his and Lou’s relationship develop throughout the book. Snooty New York society are the prime highlight of Still Me, of which I much enjoyed reading about. And not to forget Will’s presence is very much felt in Still Me, as it should since he helped Lou so much to break out of her shell, even after his passing. And whilst there are a few characters that didn’t really have much impact on me, overall the book’s plot and cast of characters combination played out very well.

It has been a pleasure to go on Lou’s journey of self-discovery and see her grow into such an amazing person. In Me Before You, we see an uncertain young woman dedicated to save the man she loves and in After You we witness how difficult grief is when you feel you have failed. Still Me is the story of redemption and truly living every moment to the fullest.

I’d like to think Will would have been very proud of Lou’s journey and he’s cheering on from above.

“I think at some point, dear, you’re going to have to work out who Louisa Clark is.”

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review!

A Heartwarming Tale Between Man and Cat: a Review of The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday (Translated from Japanese)
Publication date: November 2nd, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 256

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Blurb:

Nana, a cat, is devoted to Satoru, his owner. So when Satoru decides to go on a roadtrip one day to find him a new home, Nana is perplexed. They visit Satoru’s old friends from his school days and early youth. His friends may have untidy emotional lives but they are all animal lovers, and they also wonder why Satoru is trying to give his beloved cat away. Until the day Nana suddenly understands a long-held secret about his much-loved owner, and his heart begins to break.

Narrated in turns by Nana and by his owner, this funny, uplifting, heartrending story of a cat is nothing if not profoundly human.

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles was like a sweet surprise you’ll never see coming your way. I’m usually hesitant in reading Japanese-translated works because they sometimes feel too stiff and formal for my taste. I worried about a lot of the original impact intended by the author getting lost in translation too.

But The Travelling Cat Chronicles did a splendid job in giving us that authentic abstract Japanese feel in the words written and how the story unraveled. This is the tale of a beautiful, innocent friendship between a cat and his master. They travel all over Japan to visit 3 friends whom Satoru wants to care for Nana when he couldn’t due to mysterious reasons. And with the background of Japan’s changing seasons, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a book that will transport you to the place where Mt Fuji resides and the cherry blossoms bloom.

I can’t begin to explain how beautiful the story and the characters are in this book. The narratives switch between Nana, the cat, and her master, Satoru. There is a perfect balance of sadness, humor and contemplation with each narrative that makes you fall in love with the book even more. Nana is a cat with so much personality that he brought so much joy to Satoru’s life. The plot was simple, but with each visit, we got to know more of Satoru and his upbringing, and how Nana came into his life.

Perfect for all cat-lovers, all animal lovers in fact, The Travelling Cat Chronicles will take you on this melancholic journey to discover the unlimited boundaries of love man will always have for their four-legged furry friend. That said, I am not embarrassed to admit that I shed tears as the book came to a close. I am reminded so much of the love I have for my cats, and despite my allergies to them, they will always hold a special place in my heart.

Great for fans of Japanese fiction that always make you think a little beyond the story, The Travelling Cat Chronicles will take hold of your heartstrings and never let go until the last page. Boxes of tissues are recommended to have at ready.

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Secrets Burned to the Ground: a Review of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
Publication date: September 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 336

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Blurb:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” 

When I finished this book last night, I was speechless. I’ve heard so many rave reviews about this book from so many influential people in the book blogosphere (notably Reese Witherspoon’s RW Book Club!) So you can imagine how excited I was to receive a copy to review.

Little Fires Everywhere is such an apt novel that centers around complex family dynamics, small town politics and complicated mother-daughter relationships. It also deals with the question of what it means to really love through sacrifice, sheer will and fierce determination to do the right thing.

Little Fires Everywhere is my first Celeste Ng novel. I’ve always wanted to read Everything I Never Told You but never got around to it. Now I’m mentally kicking myself in the back for missing out on it because Ng’s writing is so amazingly well done. It’s the sort of writing that tethers you for hours before plunging you into an abyss that you willingly dive into. It’s so subtle in building that world and characters inside your head that by the end of the book, you’ll be left wanting more of it.

I don’t want to give too much away of the story line because I think Little Fires Everywhere is best read without knowing too much about it. We see friendships develop between the teenage kids of the Richardsons and Warrens and with an external POV, we really get to know each character more closely. I love the brilliant play of secrets from the past which impacts the present families and newfound secrets.

The characters are uniquely written in Little Fires Everywhere where each one struggles with being brought up a certain way and finding the right passage to be their selves unapologetically. We have Mia Warren is a single mom whose life passion as a photographer has taken her and Pearl, her daughter, across the states. And then her complete opposite is Elena Richardson, with her perfect 4 children settled in Shaker Heights, always following the rules and living an ideal suburban life. 2 very different mothers with different ways of raising their children but in the end, the book questions a lot what it takes to become the right mother for your children. And whether you get a second chance at being a great mother.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” 

Little Fires Everywhere has the power to pull and tug you in so many different directions. You can’t help but to feel strongly for Mia as her story unfolds in the book, but you also appreciate Elena and how strongly she feels about doing the “right” thing for her household. The title of the book is so well-suited because in each character you meet in Little Fires Everywhere, there is a fire within them that you can unmistakably identify with. Every character is so profound and impactful towards the book’s unbelievably strong presence.

“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”

Overall, Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favourite reads of 2017. Its rich content in family dynamics, complex characters and fierce motherly love is portrayed so well in this book. It’s rare to find a book that made me wish there was more to that ending. A highly recommended read from me!

Have you read this and what did you think about it?

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Finding Truth Without Words: a Review of Shtum by Jem Lester

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Orion
Publication date: January 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 313

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Blurb:
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

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Shtum is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book With a One Word Title

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It says that this book is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Shock of The Fall. Given that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both books, I couldn’t miss out on another amazing autism-centered book.

And Shtum did not disappoint.

Shtum, which means “voiceless” in Yiddish, is the story of a father, Ben, who has an autistic son who cannot talk, Jonah.  Ben struggles to great lengths to enroll his son in one of the best autism-centered schools. In retrospect, this book is about Ben’s fight to get the best care for his autistic son, and his personal struggles with his estranged father and wife, and alcoholism in between. Shtum explored family dynamics so well and so emotionally truthful, that you can’t help but to feel pain alongside Ben.

A fair warning to those thinking of picking Shtum up: be prepared for the emotional turbulence you’ll encounter in this book. Because it will break your heart.

Just like the two aforementioned books on autism, Shtum is a perfect book that provides an almost comprehensive view into how difficult and wonderful it is to raise a child at the extreme end of the Autistic Specturm Disorder (ASD). Given how the son of the author has ASD and was enrolled in a special school, no doubt this book is the real deal.

When Ben and his wife fake a separation in order to help their case, we see the ugly truth behind how handling a special-needs child can take a toll of marriage and life. But Shtum isn’t just wonderful because of its great capability to portray autism life and those who care for them. Shtum is heartrendingly beautiful because it portrays the human condition of love, struggles, and self acceptance so well, you can’t help but to feel pained at the accuracy. The ups and downs in this book felt like a never-ending roller coaster ride. And don’t get me started on the dry British humour incorporated in this book. All those components contributed to how real Ben and Jonah’s living conditions were. It’s an eye opener to the struggles of living with autism, both from the point of view of the autistic and the carer.

And that is what makes this book such a ‘Jem’. Get it?

Punny jokes aside, I have to admit, I was expecting Jonah to make a grand entrance by being able to talk and teaching his parents what he wants in his life. But we don’t get that, at all. So clear any expectations you might have of Jonah speaking up verbally. Because he might not say any words at all in the book, but he is still capable of giving life lessons on identifying truths and believing in what we do that’s right for our loved ones. Despite his silence, Jonah remains the main characters of this book through the narrative provided by his father and grandfather and this is what makes him and the book so special.

Hands down, I am a huge fan of Shtum because I love books about family and marriages. Put in the struggles of having both and I’m sold. Shtum is a book for people looking to find the meaning of life in the simple routines of having a family and raising a child.

Because this isn’t an inspirational book about traveling to discover yourself. This is a book about being the best parent you can be for your child and making the best of your circumstances.

“It’s not words. It’s not words.

It’s actions.

But you don’t see with your eyes, like every other fool you see with your ears. You heard love from Emma, you heard devotion from Emma, you heard yourself tell yourself that you love Emma,

but what did you see?

What did you do?”

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