Warning. This book deals with very upsetting themes and contains triggers.
My husband commented, on looking at the cover, “it’s one of those books. I wouldn’t read it”.
And it does look like one of those books: biographical memoirs detailing a childhood of abuse and neglect.
For several reasons, Not Thomas is not one of those books.
Tomos is five and lives with his mother and her boyfriend; she is an addict and he is a drug dealer. The story escalates and takes an extremely violent turn that I was not expecting and unprepared for.
This book is not merely a catalogue of the abuse and neglect he suffers; it is an exploration of the domino effect that builds up to it.
It is important to note that the narrative is present tense from Tomos’ own perspective. The whole story is told from his viewpoint and as a reader we piece together events that Tomos himself clearly doesn’t understand. This gives the book a strong sense of innocence, the present tense particularly giving it a sense of niaivity; the narrative transcends any kind of blame game and allows the reader to make their own judgements. It would be easy to lay the blame at Tomos’ mother’s feet, but other factors and failures are laid before you; her own past, inept social workers, uncaring neighbours, incompetent teacher…
Despite the child’s pov, effective literary tropes like building up dramatic irony are still in place and cleverly utilised; for example Tomos reminding Mammy about his Christmas concert, when you know there’s no chance she’ll show up. The writing is very well thought through and executed.
All the characters are painfully real; relatable, familiar, and with incredible emotional depth. You would be forgiven that thinking a book written from the pov of a five year old would be shallow and poorly written, but this could not be further from the truth. Sara Gethin’s writing is formidable, what she is able to convey in such a simplistic way is incredibly effective. You see Tomos’ world through his own eyes and it is vivid. Without realising it you have a clear understanding of his environment. Then Sara sneaks in little one liners that just floor you:
“P.S I hope you like it in Heaven”
In short, Not Tomos is emotional, complex, gripping (I could only put it down at risk of neglecting my own poor children) and very clever.
I’m going to slightly break my review rules; I’m giving it five stars but I’m not sure I’d be able to read it again! As Jon Gower said, it “should be printed on plastic so that the reader’s ample tears don’t blot the paper”.
P.S I loved the p.s’s and the many Welshisms (colloquiums), it brought the book home that little bit harder for me.
Not Thomas is available from: