Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for A MAN CALLED OVE & A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS
Published by Atria Books on July 15, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.
Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove follows the story of, you guessed it, a man by the name of Ove. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man in pretty much every way. I actually couldn’t stand him for the first few chapters of the book. He’s set in his ways, incredibly opinionated, and can be downright mean and rude at times. What we also learn about him early on, however, is there’s a lot more going on with Ove than just your average grumpiness. Ove is suffering from depression and having thoughts of suicide because his beloved wife has passed away and he’s just completely lost without her. I felt much more sympathetic to Ove after learning this news and found myself wanting to know more about him.
My favorite part of the story therefore is how the author presents us with such a complete portrait of Ove. In addition to chapters that take us through Ove’s present circumstances, the author also includes chapters that feature life-shaping events from Ove’s past. The more I learned about Ove, both past and present, the more lovable I found him. I especially enjoyed the chapters that focused on how Ove met his wife. This grumpy old man was actually downright adorable as he awkwardly pursued the girl of his dreams.
The secondary characters also added a lot of depth to the story. The author does a wonderful job fleshing them out and making them feel like people you might actually run into in your own neighborhood. I was an especially big fan of Ove’s new neighbors. They’re loud, kind of obnoxious, and basically introduce themselves to Ove by nearly mowing his house over with their moving trailer. This family, especially the wife and her two daughters, are determined to make Ove an extended part of their family, whether he likes it or not, and they are always inserting themselves into his days, shaking up his entire routine. They bring a lot of comedy and a lot of heart to the story, and they also bring their own brand of chaos to Ove’s way too orderly existence and I loved every minute of it!
If you want an utterly charming read that focuses on family, unexpected friendships, and the evolution of a grumpy old man into a not-quite-so-grumpy old man, then definitely give A Man Called Ove a try. The humor and sarcasm is sure to make you laugh, and the overriding heartfelt message of compassion will bring a tear to your eyes. 4 STARS
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 6, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.
Meet eight-year-old Sam. Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.
When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . . When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?
A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author's own experiences with his son.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started reading A Boy Made of Blocks, but what I got was a beautiful, heartfelt story of Alex Rowe, a man who has somehow taken a wrong turn in life and lost his connection to both his wife and their 8-year old autistic son, Sam. The novel follows Alex’s journey as he is determined to figure out where he went wrong and how he can turn things around so that he can get his family and his life back.
I have to admit that it did take me a while to warm up to Alex. I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t see what he was doing wrong, that he was either treating everything to do with Sam as a chore or even worse, was ignoring it all together, saying that he was busy at work, and leaving the brunt of raising Sam on his wife. I kind of wanted to throttle him and tell him to grow up and stop being so selfish. The more I got to know Alex, however, the more I realized how much he truly did love his son and that he just needed to find a way to connect with him on a real level so that everything else would sort its way out. And even though I was initially annoyed at Alex for having gotten himself into such a self-inflicted mess with his family in the first place, I grew to admire his effort and determination to right his wrong. No matter how many missteps and wrong moves he makes, he never gives up on trying to reconnect with Sam.
I thought the author did an especially beautiful job of portraying the vulnerability of a child who has autism, the strain that trying to raise such a child can put on a marriage, and the overall determination of parents to do whatever it takes to make sure their child feels safe and secure and has every opportunity to live a happy and successful life. Sam was also absolutely precious and I was moved to tears watching his own emotional growth as he and his Dad begin to reconnect in a meaningful way.
A Boy Made of Blocks was an emotional and moving read for me. I think my favorite quote from the book best sums it up: “Life is an adventure, not a walk. That’s why it’s difficult.” Alex and Sam’s adventure is one you won’t want to miss. 4 STARS
FTC Disclosure: I received A Boy Made of Blocks for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.