Review: Shtum by Jem Lester


  • Jem Lester
  • Orion
  • 7th April, 2016
  • Mental Health, General fiction

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.

As Ben battles single fatherhood, a string of well-meaning social workers and his own demons, he learns some difficult home truths. Jonah, blissful in his innocence, becomes the prism through which all the complicated strands of personal identity, family history and misunderstanding are finally untangled.


I was initially interested in Shtum because of description and beautiful cover. When I first saw it in email from Sam Eades from Orion Publishing Group, I could not forget it. The colours, the silhouette of boy, the font used on it. Ah, just simply perfection!

When I started to read this book I was shocked by brutally honest story it told. Honestly it is hard even to tell you how much this novel touched my heart.

Ben and Emma decided to fake a separation in order for it to help their son’s Johan’s, who has severe autism, upcoming tribunal. Ben and Johan is forced to move in with Ben’s father. Ben and his father does not get along and he is getting very jealous of how his father interacts with Johan, tells him their family history that he was hiding from Ben his entire life.

Autism is playing big role to the narrative and everything is about helping Johan to get to live the life he is entitled to. However, this book is about adults, parents who need to interact with their child who has autism, their unique struggles to give their child best possible chances in life. Emma and Ben wants to secure Johan a place at residential school where he could have professional help around the clock.

I honestly hated Emma for majority of the book. She is portrayed as selfish, uncaring and just heartless B***. How could mother abandon her son, her own flesh and blood? Make them to move away from their home? Though in the end of the book it’s explained why she acted the way she acted, but it did not change the way I feel about her.

Ben, however, has his own flaws and issues, such as alcoholism, but he tries, he puts lots of effort to do the best for his son, no matter what. It so heart  warming and satisfying to watch his personality growth and how he puts his priorities in order.

To sum up everything it’s a great book with well-developed relationships and characters. Ending – superb, nicely finished, could not ask for more. However, be prepared: it will break your heart into a million pieces and it will take one small piece away, so your heart will never be the same.

You have been warned!



I received a review copy from publisher through Netgalley for honest opinion. Nobody paid me to write this.