Review: A Boy Made of Blocks

*Will contain spoilers for the novel*

Evening everyone!

You know, there’s very little that’s more British than wishing for rain while the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. We are never happy with the weather.

Okay, there’s a good reason for it; we need to roll out the lumps in the horse’s fields and we can’t do it while the ground is like iron, which means I get to ride the quadbike, which is AWESOME. And I just realised how incredibly middle-class that sentence makes me sound. I am so sorry.

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It’s one of the many things you don’t have to worry about in Minecraft. The earth always breaks when you want it to, and it regularly rains like a bitch. If you don’t mind the odd zombie hanging around (or a skeleton, God I hate skeletons), it’s pretty idyllic. The very ground beneath your feet bends to your will, which is at least part of the appeal of it for Sam in Keith Stuart’s novel ‘A Boy Made of Blocks.’

Some scene setting; Sam is eight, and on the autistic spectrum. He’s fairly high-functioning, but he had his moments – a lot. Alex is his father, and is, to put it bluntly, a complete mess. Jody is his mother, and perpetually stuck in the middle. Sam likes to play Minecraft, and Alex eventually realises that it may be the only way he and his son can reliably communicate. There are some other characters which move in and out of the story as necessary, but I would say they are more central to Alex’s story arc than Sam’s.

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The book is based on the author’s experiences with his own son, and I think that real-world edge really shows through; it manages to be both very true-to-life and heartwarming novel. It’s told from Alex’s perspective, so we don’t get a lot of Sam’s psyche; nevertheless, despite the insider view, I spent the first half of it wanting to punch Alex in the face (sorry mate), and the second half of him yelling at him to sort his life out. I can’t really blame him, in some respects. We’ve all been there, on occasion – life falling to pieces, no idea what to do about it, and burying our heads rather than try. It isn’t an excuse for not trying, though. There comes a point, even when depressed, one has to say ‘enough,’ and I think Alex was long past that stage – to the point I felt sometimes it was being milked for dramatic effect, but mental health issues aren’t overcome in a day, so Mr Stuart is forgiven. For now.

But I got so furious every time Alex got angry with Sam, whenever he shouted rather than tried to understand, whenever he gave up and snapped rather than tried to get down to Sam’s level, or Jody’s for that matter. Like he’d rather cause an argument because that’s what he’s expecting. There was a lot in the family dynamic that reminded me of growing up in my own household; not so much in terms of character personality, but in their interactions. It’s even true today, though these days my parents won’t even mention one another unless made to. It hit me quite hard in that area.

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No wonder Sam wants to run away and hide in a sandbox world. I did the same thing with storybooks. The same ones, over and over and over again, because they were predictable and therefore safe. I could deal with them. And Minecraft itself isn’t just a ‘run wild and free’ kind of game, even though you can build basically anything you want to. There are rules for it; all your recipes have to be exact or they won’t work, you can only pick up certain blocks if you break them with certain kinds of tools, certain things only spawn in certain places or biomes, it’s actually quite formulaic. You know what to expect. But there’s just enough freedom to make your own mark on the game. And okay, I can only really understand things once I’ve experienced them, that’s just the way I work, but I think the way it brought Sam out of his shell is actually quite accurate. In the same way I related (hah, still do) a lot of the world to what I read and saw in stories and films, Sam relates the real world to the virtual blocks of Minecraft, and in that way he starts to understand it. And so he starts to understand his dad, who starts to understand him, and it’s that understanding which starts to draw the family back together, in the end.

It was really beautifully done. And I guess that’s the point – if we don’t understand,or even try to understand, nothing will ever get better.

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Yeah, I guess it was one of those books which hit me in all the right places, even if the protagonist spent a lot of it annoying the hell out of me. And it portrays autism in a realistic light, rather than the overly positive or negative skews you can find depending on which media you access. Yes, I think it made a bit of a meal of Alex’s issues to try and create some drama and sympathy, but in terms of its portrayal of Sam and the spectrum, I thought it did a wonderful job of showing both the beauty and the strain. 9/10 would recommend to someone who was lowkey interested in the subject, or to someone looking for a starting point to learn about autsim.

Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!

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A Boy Made of Blocks (link to Amazon)

Minecraft (Mojang)

Diamond Pickaxe

Alex Skin

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The Crystal Heart: or, Some Words for the Boy who Broke my Heart

Some warnings for subjectivity and a need to get emotions off my chest.

Evening,

I think I seem like a stranger to you now. Remember me? You liked me once – enough to take me out and give me a time I will never forget.

You don’t even know what you did. You can’t realise. I’d like to help, if you’ll let me. Since I haven’t the means or opportunity to find words to say to your face, let me tell you a story.

It’s hardly T H White – just simple words from a simple girl. A folk tale, if you will.

The Crystal Heart

Once upon a time, in a green land far to the south of here, there was a young, ordinary girl. Not a princess, or a duchess’ daughter, but not a pauper living in rags. Not great beauty, but not ugly. She carried with her at all times a crystal heart with many facets which was the source of her trust. For many years it remained whole, reflecting the purest, brightest light. She took good care of this crystal heart, for often her friends had nearly scratched and chipped this heart, so she kept it safe and took it out to clean and care for it regularly.

When the ordinary girl fell in love for the first time it was with another girl, a warrior girl, and they courted for a while. The ordinary girl loved the warrior, and the warrior loved her. When the time to part ways came (for the ordinary girl was moving away to a far northern kingdom), she was very sad, but her former lover said to her that they would always be friends, and that she would always be there if she was needed. But when the time came for the former love to stand by her promise; when the ordinary girl had need of her, she was met with coldness, and hard words, and strange looks. Unwilling to lose a friend she cared for, the ordinary girl did not give up, and persisted, asking her old friend and love to stand by her promise, but was met only with silence. The ordinary girl was devastated and the crystal heart cracked in her pocket, leaving a fissure that reflected light the wrong way. She felt it within her heart, and it hurt for a very long time. But she eventually realised that she had to leave her behind and move on. That was the first time.

So time went on, as time will, and the ordinary girl grew in confidence. She made many new friends in this northern kingdom and soon forgot her sadness. But the crack in the crystal heart remained, and she kept many of these friends at a safe distance for fear that one of them would crack her heart further. During this time she was courted by a musician, a sweet boy who loved her for her graceful dancing and quick tongue, and whose musical talent she greatly admired. But this boy was fickle, and took her for granted, forsaking many meetings for the sake of his other friends, or his bed. The girl grew tired of being treated as such, and tried to make him change his ways. But she was met with silence, or short denials, not apologies or efforts. Slowly, the fissure in the crystal heart grew wider, and as much as the ordinary girl treated it carefully, padding it in soft cloths and soothing words, it grew heated and the crack widened. The parting with the boy, when it came, was welcome, but she felt his betrayals in the crack in her crystal heart. That was the second time.

Once again time went on, as time will, And the ordinary girl continued to meet new people and make new friends in her northern kingdom. It was here she met the third, a dashing young adventurer, a friend of her best friend, who took away her breath with his stories of adventures and derring-do in far away lands to the north, south, and west. Although the travels of the ordinary girl could not compare to the young adventurer, this boy seemed eager to hear her own stories of life, and they spent many nights sharing each other’s wisdom and adventures. The ordinary girls’ crystal heart did not mind such conversation, and was content to sit cool while they talked. The fissure, it seemed to the girl, had begun to lessen slightly. But it remained, whenever the girl took it out the clean and care for it. She no longer felt it. She believed herself in love with the young adventurer, and one spring night, it seemed to her that he confessed the same feelings in return.

The ordinary girl no longer felt ordinary, and felt instead that she could dance among the clouds. She waited in eager anticipation for their next meeting. But when it came, her supposed lover was cold, and distant, and shunned her with silence.

The ordinary girl was very confused, and hurt, and sad. Of all her betrayals, this hurt the most. In time she received a message from him that gave his reasons why they could not be together. At first she was grateful simply that she had done nothing wrong. But the next time she took out her crystal heart to clean and care for it, she found to her horror that the fissure had widened enough to crack the heart almost in two. Its shine was dull, and reflected very little pure light, instead refracting it in jagged, glaring colours.

The ordinary girl was upset and angry that her adventurer had done this to her. She felt hurt, and used, and wasted, and decided from henceforth that she would never love again, that her crystal heart was no longer capable of sustaining the trust that love demands. That was the third time.

Time wen on, as time will. Many months passed, and the ordinary girl buried her anger, though it never stayed away long. The sight of her former companion continuing his life apparently as though he had never met her, fueled it with sadness and despair. But then she met a man, a clever and caring scholar who listened to her troubles and soothed them with gentle words and a quick and ready laugh. This man loved her for every cracked facet of that crystal heart, and through his steady resolve to be there for her always, and in never letting her down, she felt that fissure begin to heal. Little by little, in frightening and sometimes painful increments, the crack in that heart became smaller, and smaller, until at last, after many months, it narrowed to a tiny chip in the surface. It could once more sustain her love and trust for this man, and it had learnt many lessons from its broken state, the first being that it never wanted to break again. Her lover understood this, but made her no promises, for her was only human. She loved him the more for this, and felt her anger at the young adventurer who’d so nearly shattered her heart beyond repair begin to cool. She left him behind.

Finis

Did they live happily ever after, the ordinary girl and her scholar? I don’t know – that’s rather up to us. But what of the young adventurer? Well, he fell in love with the ordinary girl’s best friend. The one he knew first. The one I’m fairly sure he liked before he even began to look at me. That is the epilogue I can’t truthfully say I wanted.

Don’t think I’m not happy for you, because I am – as long as she’s happy, and you’re not hurting her, I won’t come down on your head like a ton of bricks. But you are my greatest regret, and I will never stop wondering what might have been, and be sad that we can never set it right. That I can never be sure whether those words you said were simply to sweet-talk me into your bedroom or whether you really meant them at the time. Whether you liked me, or cared for me in the fist place; because if you had cared, would you have dropped me the way you did? Two minutes out of your ‘very busy’ schedule would have sufficed. Not the cold shoulder.

Just do right by her like you never did by me, please. I never loved you, just the idea of you – I am not jealous, the precise opposite in fact. Maybe it would be easier if I was garden-variety jealous, but I’m not. I’m just sad. And I don’t really care anymore if you don’t care, because I think if you did care it would make it worse somehow.

Do we deserve a chance to clear the air? Do you want to clear the air? Are you so blind you can’t see the air needs clearing? What do you think of me, if anything? Questions I am happy not knowing the answers to, yet would like anyway. Questions I can never ask you, a year and a half down the line.

But thank you, not just to you but to all three people who almost shattered my heart. You taught me three important lessons.

  1. When to let go and how to recognise when someone wants you to
  2. Never date someone because you think you should
  3. Love the person, not the idea of them.

Because of you, I can love my partner with all my heart, because I know my worth and I know what healthy love is. I am settled enough in my own skin to not allow myself or my heart to be treated badly anymore. And I forgive you for almost breaking it.

I hope I get to tell you that myself one day.

Yours ever,

An old friend.

Note:

All characters are real, all are deliberately vague for that reason. Only those who know what I’m talking about will know who they are. All of them probably had their reasons and I hold none of them any true ill will. I just had to get this out.

Continue reading The Crystal Heart: or, Some Words for the Boy who Broke my Heart