A father discovers that the foundation of his relationship with his son is paved in pixelated blocks.
Alex isn’t sure his marriage will be able to survive his 8-year-old son Sam’s diagnosis of autism. Frustrated by Sam’s frequent outbursts and tantrums, as well as his growing list of social anxieties and quirks, Alex decides to take a break from his chaotic home and shaky marriage; armed with a duffel bag stuffed with his belongings, he'll be crashing at his old friend Dan’s apartment indefinitely. Soon after the separation, Alex loses his job, sending his life further into a tailspin. Though Alex clearly loves his son, he has trouble finding ways to relate to him. When Sam becomes obsessed with the popular video game “Minecraft,” Alex is initially skeptical, worried that having an Xbox in his bedroom will only cause Sam to retreat further into himself. Eventually, though, the two begin playing the game together, and Alex too begins to obsess over it, realizing that instead of driving Sam inward, it is actually helping his development. Every obstacle in life now has an in-game counterpart, an extended metaphor to help Sam cope with frightening dogs, loud noises, and cruel peers. As they work together to build a castle within the game, Sam begins to open up to his father, sharing parts of himself that Alex never thought he’d be able to access. And as much as young Sam is growing and evolving throughout the novel, so is Alex, who lets go of some childhood trauma, dreams of a new future for himself, and explores the possibility of rekindling his relationship with his wife, Jody. The characters are well-developed and vulnerable, learning to navigate and make sense of a world filled with obstacles.
Stuart’s debut novel is a charming and timely tale of learning to connect in the digital age.