The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m waiting for her to go away.
Tomos lives with his mother. He longs to return to another place, the place he thinks of as home, and the people who lived there, but he’s not allowed to see them again. He is five years old and at school, which he loves. Miss teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. Sometimes he’s hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches. She gives him a warm coat from Lost Property, too. There are things Tomos cannot talk about – except to Cwtchy – and then, just before Easter, the things come to a head. There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair, Tomos waits, trying to make himself small and quiet. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus this time.
When the men break in, Tomos’s world is turned on its head and nothing will be the same again.
Sara Gethin grew up in west Wales and worked as a primary school teacher. Her debut novel 'Not Thomas' was shortlisted for The Guardian's Not the Booker prize in 2017 and the Waverton Good Read Award in 2018. She is a member of the Hay Festival Writers at Work. Sara writes for children as Wendy White, and her first children's book won the Tir na-nOg Award in 2014. Home is still west Wales, but she enjoys travelling to Ireland and spending time browsing the many book shops of Dublin. She's an avid reader of most genres and a dedicated theatre-goer.
Every now and then I read a book that sets all my senses tingling with the brilliance of it.
And this is why I wanted to write my review in a different way than normal.
I don’t just mean that the characters are so multi-layered and rounded that I can empathise with them. Or that the descriptions give a wonderful sense of place that make the settings easy to envisage. Or that the plot makes a story that is innovative and original.
I mean a book that holds all these… and more. And this novel does just that
Not Thomas is narrated through the point of view of the protagonist, Tomas. He’s five years old. And, because of this, the narration and his dialogue are simplistic and poignant; the words jump off the page as those of a five year old child. And it works so well.
We see his world; his home, his school, the people around him, through his eyes. We learn of his perception of himself, the capabilities of his body; often described in almost a third person, personification kind of way; “my ear is listening “, ” my teeth are hurting my tongue”
Sara Gethin has an usual talent for seeing through the eyes of a child and I love her style of writing.
Without giving any spoilers to this superb novel I will say that, despite the simplicity of a lot of the narrative, this is a dark, compelling story with a gripping plot. I could see this as a television drama.
I thoroughly recommend Not Thomas. I’m not ashamed to say there were moments when I cried reading this story, sometimes in a sad way but sometimes, as Tomas would say, when “my mouth was laughing”.
When I first started to read this, I was a little put off in the way it was written, its through young Thomas eyes, using his words, his child way of looking at things which at first I personally found annoying as he would repeat himself. As the book grew on me and I stepped back from this thinking how a young boy Thomas age would talk, I got well into this.
This is a story that will 'knock your socks off' its shocking, its emotional and it darn right moving. I grew to love Thomas and just wanted to pick him up, take him home and give him a childhood. Poor little love.
We find some hidden background behind his Mother. Shes quite young and had had issues herself. That becomes clearer as the story unfolds. As sometimes follow they get attracted or become attractive to the male rogues of this world and she was no different. Shes a bad Mother in all round the clock details.
Thomas doesn't know any difference its his 'normal' life. He gets teased for his manners, teased for his mannerisms and teased because he smells.
A neighbour and her daughter wait outside his house gate each morning to walk him to school.
His teacher Lowri secretly feeds him sandwiches using the ploy that her husband has made too many.
School holidays are counted down by biscuits. There's not an adult to tell him. He practically sees to himself, maybe a packet of crisps is his supper. But the pink packets are saved for his Mother. I thought very sweet, but, so undeserving of this boys thoughtfulness.
Yes there are visitors seeking if everything is OK, but they can't be let in as Thomas is on his own and he can't open the door if his Mums not there, he shouldn't go out either so his 'black chair' becomes his hideaway.
He has three objects that he cares for. And one that is left behind at his Grans and Granddads home which he used to live in, that he no longer lives in for reasons that become clearer as time goes on.
That's enough about the story.
The writing is superb. I got halfway through this read before I really and truly was hooked. It was my mindset I had to alter and adjust to reading from a child's POV.
It was very moving and there are more secrets that come out towards the end.
Never read a book by this author before and I can honestly say I never heard of her [sorry] but I will definitely be following her for future reads.
It was gone midnight as I finished this and I sat on my sofa a blubbering wreck. From page 30 onwards I was wiping my tears as fast as I turned the pages. I raced through this book in one sitting. Completely unputdownable. I just had to know what happened. Not sentimental , Tomos' five year old voice narrating his story was utterly believable , completely compelling and enthralling. His acceptance of both the cruelty and compassion shown to him broke my heart. Would make an excellent book club read with themes and innumerable discussion points to pick over.
I had attended the book signing in our local Waterstones . Sara is a local author . Just before bed I thought I would read a few pages ... I would recommend a comfy chair , big box of tissues, and no disturbances. Take the phone off the hook , ignore the doorbell and submerge yourself in Tomos' story. You won't want to leave him for a moment .
I read Sara Gethin's 'Not Thomas' because it was our montly book club's read. And it fully justified the reason I joined the book club- to read books I wouldn't normally read.
The theme of child neglect and abuse didn't initially win me over, and the fact that it is largely told from the child's pov didn't help. Still, I ploughed on with the task at hand. And was I ever glad that I did?
I have just finished the novel this evening, wiping tears from my eyes.
Yes, the subject matter is challenging at times, accentuated by seeing events unfold through Tomos' naive viewpoint, but despite the heaviness of the subject matter, there is an overarching sense of the power of resilience - and the ability of individuals to make a real difference as part of society . . . If they choose to do so.
This book will captivate you and tear your heartstrings. Sara Gethin used to be a primary school teacher, and really understands how a five-year-old thinks. It's fascinating to discover how the world looks from a child's point of view, especially when that world is filled with neglect and violence. As I read the ending, I cried. You have got to read this book.
Some of the world’s greatest novels are narrated by children – To Kill a Mocking Bird, Catcher in the Rye, I Captured the Castle (I could go on but won’t) – but I think it’s fair to say that the younger the child the greater the challenge for both author and adult reader. This is certainly true of me. Emma Donoghue’s Room is a brilliant book but I confess to relief when half way through the narration switched from five-year-old Jack to Ma. Sara Gethin’s (adult) debut Not Thomas is told entirely from five-year-old Tomos’s viewpoint, so it is to Gethin’s credit that I did not tire of Tomos’s voice. Not for one moment. If anything, it grows ever more powerful as this compelling, beautifully told and often disturbing novel continues. Tomos is a neglected child – this isn’t a spoiler; it’s clear from the outset. The only child of a teenage, drug addicted mother he is extremely vulnerable, but he is also bright and resourceful and brim full of unconditional love – for the foster parents he can no longer see, for his kind, if often misguided, teacher (I wanted to slap her a couple of times, though Gethin cleverly explains the motivation for her actions at the denouement), and for his mother. If this makes it sound sentimental, it is not. It can be a tough read at times – Tomos is exposed to things no child should be – but it is honest and, sadly, reflects the real world experience of far too many children. But there is joy too, a sense of redemption and optimism. It’s a unique book. Bitter-sweet – heavier on the bitter – but fabulous. Truly fabulous.
My thanks to the author for the ARC. This is my honest opinion.
This was an uncomfortable read and as a teacher, a book that at times I felt I was reading for work. Certainly it's a better way of being aware of the sort of child abuse that goes on in our society today than completing the multiple choice scenario worksheets at the start of each year as professional development.
Sara Gethin was a teacher herself and her story of neglect of a young boy, her first novel, is an important one for all involved in working with children to read. There is hardly any break from the torture that young Tomos suffers, so if it's on your tbr list, prepare yourself suitably.
Not Thomas, by Sara Gethin, is told from the point of view of five year old Tomos, who lives with Mammy and Brick in Wales. Mammy and Tomos used to live with Nanno and Dat, and Tomos misses them a lot. Nanno fed him good food and wrote him letters. Dat made him a train table that he still plays with even though the trains have been taken away. Nanno and Dat’s house was filled with stories and songs; now Tomos spends much of his time alone. He knows he mustn’t open the door when Mammy isn’t there so when the lady comes knocking, or the man with the web tattoo, he hides behind the big chair and waits for them to go away.
Tomos likes his teacher at the school he attends since the move. Miss is kind and smells nice, unlike the people who frequent his home. Miss shares her lunch with Tomos when her husband has made her too much, telling him that he is being helpful. The other children tell him he is stinky. Mammy calls him Stupid Boy.
Sometimes Tomos has fish fingers for tea but often all he can find in the cupboards are crisps. He likes the food at school and takes seconds when offered. His new friend, Wes, tells him school dinners are yucky and he should bring a packed lunch. Wes also tells Tomos about the DVDs his uncle watches. He enjoys putting thoughts into Tomos’s head that give him nightmares, and then running away.
The reader experiences Tomos’s life through his eyes whilst understanding the aspects that a five year old child cannot comprehend. The hunger, cold and neglect he suffers are harsh enough but the more immediate dangers he is subjected to when Brick’s associates visit make this a tense read. Tomos is known by social services to be at risk. Their stretched resources and need for proof before intervening are starkly portrayed.
Set in a small community where residents have grown up together, sometimes in equally challenging circumstances, there are memories of how people were before the drugs and alcohol took hold. Loyalties and a desire to protect their own lead to difficult choices, with outcomes that may be causing more damage than good. Old at nineteen, Mammy has already made accusations to get what she wants, using her son as leverage. Trying to help Tomos risks reputations as well as hard won careers.
The author has captured the inner voice of the child whilst retaining the flow of an adult story. Although incidents of extreme violence are graphically depicted there is no sensationalism.
The possibility of other life choices in a neighbourhood rife with hardship is touched upon, effectively lifting a narrative that could have become overwhelmingly bleak. The author writes with compassion and empathy but also practicality. There is nothing mawkish about this tale.
This is the human face of contemporary child poverty where the kindness of others, the refusal to look away, can make the difference between life and death. A difficult subject woven into a darkly engaging story. A recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Honno.
Every so often, a book comes along – without any great fanfare – that makes me want to shout about it from the rooftops. Not Thomas by Sara Gethin – published by the consistently excellent Honno Press on 15th June – is one of the most stunning books I’ve read this year. As I finished reading, I immediately nominated it for the Guardian Not The Booker prize – if there is any justice in this world (and I do hope there will be) this book should be on mainstream prize shortlists everywhere.
I’m not a big fan of reading about the ugliness of this world, drug culture, violence, neglect – but that’s the world you’ll find in this book, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. And if you’d told me that I’d sit, totally rapt, reading a book written in the voice of a five year old child, seeing that dreadful world through his eyes and from his unique perspective – well, I really wouldn’t have believed you.
I could do with a thesaurus to come up with some new adjectives – the best ones have all been used. Let’s try powerful, moving, heart-wrenching, poignant, shocking, emotional, enthralling, and maybe a bit exhausting – but let’s not forget uplifting, life-affirming, and sometimes wonderfully funny too. The impact of this book was exceptional. Tomos’ voice is absolutely authentic and compelling: you find yourself smiling at the way he expresses himself, immediately before being in tears at some new piece of cruelty that he dismisses as the norm. The detail of his world becomes part of yours – the borrowed coat, the damaged truck, the coin, the black chair – and long after finishing reading, those small details will stay with you.
Standing back from the story and its content a little, the mechanics of story-telling are superbly handled – overheard adult conversations, not always fully understood by Tomos, move it cleverly forward and disentangle the threads around past history and the adult relationships. The story itself is strong, with real narrative drive and unexpected twists and turns – much more than an unflinching view of a suffering child.
There’s a whole range of humanity in this book – exceptional generosity, love and kindness sitting alongside ignorance, cruelty and neglect. And you’re left with that aching feeling that someone should have seen what was happening and intervened more forcibly – and then wondering how many other children might be suffering in a similar way.
The author, in one of her blog posts, says of the reader: "I hope… their mouths will have smiled, as Tomos might say, even if their eyes have cried." That summed this wonderful book up absolutely perfectly for me. A unique and unforgettable experience – and one I’d urge everyone not to miss.
Not Thomas caused me a sleepless night last night. I finished the book at around midnight and then went straight to sleep. The book was in my dreams all night and I dreamed about Tomos. I got up in the middle of the night thinking about him too. I think this book hit quite a few emotional nerves with me during the course of reading it, mainly because I have worked with kids like Tomos and I know his situation is not unique. At times, it was similar to some aspects of my own up-bringing.
Tomos is only 5 years old and living with his young mother Ree in a dilapidated, dirty house. Tomos gets himself up for school and loves his mummy dearly despite her lack of parenting skills or apparent lack of any love for him. He longs to go back to the foster home they both lived in. Back to Dat. But Tomos has been told that's not possible and this makes him sad. The social workers come to visit Tomos (getting his name wrong and calling him Thomas) and like real life, Ree puts on a good enough act and has coached Tomos enough so that his home life is just and barely just good enough to warrant him staying there. However, there's so much more going on for Tomos that nobody knows about. And, there are so many people turning a blind eye to what is happening to Tomos. During one scene in the book where Tomos is looking for his mummy, I wanted to scream my frustration at the characters. I cried for Tomos.
His friend's mother makes sure Tomos gets to school each day and his teacher at school, an old friend of his mother's takes him under her wing. She (Miss) is kind and loving to him and makes sure he's eaten and his clothes are clean. It seems that everyone is looking after Tomos except his mother. And, by doing so social services aren't getting a full picture of what is actually going on for poor Tomos. The kindness of others is in fact having the opposite effect and Tomos remains in a desperate situation at home. But, what would you do if you saw a child half starved and wearing dirty, smelling clothes? A neglected child. A child who is witnessing some awful things. Things come to a head however and Tomos is left in a dangerous situation.
Told through the eyes of Tomos himself, his innocent child-like voice heartbreaking to the reader. Tomos initially sees no wrong in his mummy, keeping her favourite crisps and not eating them despite starving himself. Tomos is polite, considerate and utterly alone in his isolated world. Like many children in similar situations he finds only love in his heart for his mummy. She is his world and in his innocence he fails to find fault in anything she does. She is a broken young lady and barely functions enough to look after herself although she does always manage to look after her boyfriend Brick.
There were many times when I cried while reading this book. Actually, there were more times than I'd care to admit. This is a heartbreaking story of innocence versus real life. I defy anyone not to be affected by this book, especially by Tomos' letters to his beloved foster grandmother who is in heaven! This just grabbed my heart strings. This book is right up there on my list of highly recommended reads. Simply stunning. Simply shocking!
This is an incredibly moving book. I didn’t know but the story begins at Christmas in the run up to Tomos’s nativity play and, as it is Christmastime at the moment I had coincidentally just read Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’. This book depicts a very, very different Wales and the accidental juxtaposition of the two books against each was heartbreaking.
It is the story of Tomos - a very bright and caring five year old living with his drug addicted teenage mother and her abusive boyfriend. It’s written through his eyes so the prose is fairly simplistic, and although I do often struggle with this kind of narrative, despite the odd clunkiness here and there, it works well. Personally I preferred the first half of the book that depict his day to day life, rather than the second half which gets more ‘dramatic’ dealing with the aftermath of a break in - the way that Tomos, always trying to find ways of making his mother show love towards him, will always leave her favourite flavour crisps for her, even when hungry; how he lives in constant expectation that she will do the right thing when he should have learned that she never does; the kindness of people around him trying to help out although sadly probably for the worst as it hides many of the worst issues from social services. Ultimately this is not an easy book to read but it was an important reminder to me of how some children are forced to live their lives and will definitely stay with me.
This is a well-written, emotional story and I can't tell you how close to tears I was as I read this and how much I wanted to jump into the book to give Tomos a cwtch (and to give a telling off to Mrs Pugh!) The innocence and beauty of Tomos' character and his world, despite the neglect and abuse he suffers, is captured in the simple yet effective prose. A book that is compelling, heartbreaking and well worth reading!
Written in the voice of five-year-old Tomos, this story takes us right into the hostile and dysfunctional world of a small child in the care of a teenage mum addicted to heroin. The author portrays in searing detail Tomos's experience of being left home alone for a week or more while his mother and her boyfriend travel to Scotland to do a drug deal. This book doesn't make for easy reading, but it is skilfully executed and utterly gripping.
This book has the potential to be extremely irritating. Despite that, I found it a gripping read. It's written entirely in the first person singular present tense, from the point of view of a 5-year-old boy so it's necessarily somewhat simplistic and repetitive. If you can live with that, there's a good story here trying to get out. Little Tomos (not Thomas) Morris is the illegitimate son of a teenage drug addict. Although his early life, with his mother's foster parents, was good, he's now living with his mother and her boyfriend. She usually forgets to feed him. He might get crisps if he's lucky, and he is often dirty and smelly. He sees and hears things no small boy should. Yet despite it all, he remains a polite and positive little soul and somewhat endearing. He's lucky that his teacher takes such a keen interest in his circumstances as her food handouts undoubtedly help him to survive. There are some implausible parts to the tale - Miss certainly needs to update her First Aid at Work training if she wants to continue in teaching, for instance - but despite that, it's a worthwhile read. I'm giving if 4 stars because it's bold enough to be original (I haven't read Room, to which it is often compared) and I did grow quite fond of Tomos.
Possibly the most emotional, realistic and raw book I’ve ever read. I do not recommend it as night time reading. More day time where you have a chance to do something else more light hearted before sleeping. I had vivid nightmares after reading this book. Never more so have I wanted to seek out literary characters and offer them a loving and safe home. I realise this is fiction, but I live in Wales where this is set and I have worked in Social Services child and family, so this story is very real to me. Doesn’t help that I share my name with Tomos’s mother too. Amazing novel. I moved my copy on because I just don’t think I could read it again. Make sure you have a box of tissues next to you during reading sessions x
Once in a blue moon a book comes along that leaves me struggling to write a review adequate enough to do it justice. Not Thomas is THAT book. I found myself gripped from the first page and as I progressed through the book my emotions ranged from disbelief, anger, sorrow, love, laughter, rage and sheer despair at humanity.
Tomas is a five year old boy who lives with his young Mammy (she was fourteen when he was born) and her boyfriend in a house that resembles a pigsty. Mammy (Ree) and Brick spend the majority of their time drinking, arguing, sleeping or watching TV.
Tomas is left to his own devices as far as feeding himself or getting to school. Dinner for him is a packet of crisps, he doesn’t like the blue ones but he saves the pink crisps for Mammy because they are her favourites. His loyalty to his mother is astounding, he is a bright boy who can read and has impeccable manners.
Ree has no patience with him, he remembers the time fondly when they used to live with foster ‘grandparents’ but alas those happy times have gone. He has only a handful of precious pitiful items that he treasures along with his memories.
While this child is starving, freezing, lonely is left wearing stinking clothes where are the people who should keep him safe? The only person who seems to care about Tomas is his teacher ‘Miss’ becomes his world, the mother of a little girl in his class walks him to school yet so many other neighbours, teachers etc turn a blind eye.
Tomas and Mammy are very good at pretending so when the lady with the bag comes visiting it seems as though they are coping. This soon takes a dramatic turn though and things become sinister.
I cried my way through Not Thomas, Sara has written it from the point of view of a five year old .. so while it may take a little while to adapt your mindset to how a child sees the world it makes it even more harrowing. I wanted to scoop Tomas up and smother him with love. Your heart will break into a thousand pieces as each day with Tomas passes, it makes the reader question what they would do if faced with the same circumstances. While we are all living in our own safe little bubbles sadly stories like this are reality.
I can’t praise Sara highly enough for the way this is written, the brilliance of the descriptions, it’s possible to feel by words alone and my eyes prickled a lot! You will encounter episodes of drunkenness, drugs, violence and abuse so if any of these are *triggers* just be aware but by the end it’s a story I needed to read and I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry. This deserves all the recognition it can get and I urge everyone to have a look. A contender for book of the year for sure.
My thanks to the author, publisher and Brook Cottage Books for my copy which I read and reviewed voluntarily.
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.
Tomos, not Thomas, is a five-year-old boy who's basically taking care of himself. Tomos knows the rules and he repeats these to himself all the time. He can't count on his mother who's more away than at home. Every now and then people are coming to see if he's doing alright, but Tomos will not open the door if he's home alone. He'll hide behind the big black chair and will stay there until it's safe to come back out again. Tomos writes heartbreaking letters to his Nonna and Dat asking them to please come and get him. What will happen when Tomos's mother leaves her little boy alone for a longer period of time?
Tomos is such a sweet young boy. He'll do what he's told and he is incredibly polite. His world is the only world he has ever known and it broke my heart to read about everything that he has to go through. A five-year-old, or any child for that matter, shouldn't be worried about what to eat and about being cold at night. Children will always stay loyal to their mother or father and Tomos is happy every time his mother comes home again. Tomos has to make a lot of adult decisions, but he hasn't lost his childlike innocence. Little Tomos found his way to my heart from the very first lines. I wanted to take him home with me so that I could give him the safe environment a child needs. Children need and deserve to feel loved and sheltered and my heart ached for Tomos. His story greatly impressed me and will stay with me for a long time.
Not Thomas is a heartbreaking story about a young boy who has to find his way through abandonment and abuse. His mother is still so young and had a troubled past. This makes her incapable of caring for Tomos. She isn't insensitive, but she isn't sensible and just doesn't understand what her actions mean for Tomos. How could a mother leave her child for any amount of time, let alone days or weeks? Not Thomas is an emotional read and I couldn't stop myself tearing up numerous times. Sara Gethin tells her story from Tomos's perspective and adjusted her writing style to match a five year old's. This made Not Thomas even more gripping and shocking. The story really got to me and it kept me hooked till the last page.
Unquestionably, unless you are made of stone, this book will make you cry. It will snag the edge of your heart, lodge in your throat & reduce you to tears. It’s a dark story with a paradoxically light centre which is one of its myriad graces. The story of the little boy who is ‘Not Thomas’ – if only the lady would listen – is by turn heart-rending & ultimately hopeful.
Tomos’ plight is shocking & in our so-called civilized society, no child should have to deal with the things this brave little five-year-old endures. As the story opens, Tomos is hiding, because that’s what his young, damaged, vulnerable mother has told him to do. The lady is coming & he knows not to open the door. As it unfolds, other, more sinister people come & still, Tomos tries not to open the door.
He is a neglected child (surely the worst kind of abuse since it is so easily remedied) & his predicament is shameful. And yet, in spite of her apparent deafness to her child’s plight, we can’t help but sympathise with Tomas’ mother, the way we give thanks for Miss – who does listen.
The beauty of this book lies in the gorgeous, deceptively simple prose. Told from the viewpoint of Tomos, Sara Gethin perfectly describes him – describes him telling the reader who he is, how he feels, what he fears. She does so in language which is both childlike & never childish. It possesses a naive maturity which draws you in. I read it in one sitting, unable to set it aside, mesmerised by the poignancy & tragedy of Tomos’ young life, the lyrical prose & the hope which held me rapt – like my now & then actual caught breath – to the end.
The author exposes the frailties of a social services system which is sometimes less than fit for purpose without ever apportioning blame. She is without rancour, pragmatic & honest in her fictional assessment & thus she reveals the limitless humanity of the book. Hers & ours, which is the reason why, when we read this book, we weep.
Not Thomas is a book which must surely win prizes.
This is such a sad story I often struggled to bring myself to read it. The novel is written as if it were a true story told by the central character, 5-year-old Tomos. Tomos has just moved in with his birth mother, following a long period of foster care which came to an end when the foster parent died.
The language with which it’s written, is very much like that of its protagonist, with common wording, present tense, short sentences, and childlike enthusiasm clearly conveyed. In spite of this, you may argue it’s not necessarily easy to read, as I shall explain.
In the beginning of the book, the neglect endured by Tomos is more commonplace, such as: occasionally having crisps instead of a cooked meal, making do with a removable ladder to on and off his bed, and his mum missing his nativity play. Later a teacher spots there’s an issue and starts bringing food and uniform for him to school.
However, after each let-down, the author must have thought “Right, what’s the worst thing that can happen next?” By the end of the book, there’s a rape, an arrest, and a murder. Eventually the teacher forges a rescue of sorts for Tomos, but things may never be the same again for poor Tomos.
Reading a book where the dialogue is in my own Welsh valley dialect made the story feel all the more real to me. In the first half of the book, the dialogue amongst the adults provides more depth, context and complexity to the story, which would otherwise only be hinted at.
In the end, it’s the realism of the story that makes it such a hard read.
Don’t read this. Unless you have the time to read it without putting it down - don’t read it. Unless you want to have a 'lump of sad in your tummy’ - don’t read it. You’ll travel with that little boy. Alongside him you’ll feel happy, sad, frightened, bewildered, loving people who can’t love you back, missing the people who can. You’ll pray that he’ll survive, that he’ll come through this nightmare that he is in. You can see it’s a nightmare, but he feels its normal to have a bed with no pillow or covering apart from some old clothes. He has crisps for his dinner but leaves the pink packets for his Mummy even when his tummy is rumbling. Read it. Read it and know there are children out there who are living that life as you do. Read it. Cry, hope, and feel the ‘lump of sad in your tummy’ and come to an understanding of those who don’t cope with life well. It’s a hard book to read. It's so very well written. Written through the eyes of a five year old boy, seeing the world as a five year old boy. But as hard as it is to read, the message is strong and needs to be shared. Thank you Sarah Gethin
I bought Not Thomas from the author at a book fair last week, and despite having a long TBR list, I couldn’t resist starting it. I could not put it down! As a teacher myself I recognized Tomos’s ‘voice’ only too well. The author brought to life all of the character incredibly well, and considering it was told in first person, from the POV of a 5 year old, not once did the story telling waver. I would also add that I’ve never been a fan of present tense fiction – this book converted me! Heartbreaking. Powerful. Thought-provoking. This novel is a real indictment of the angst many children suffer in modern-day society. Anyone who has ever worked with children - or who simply cares about children - this is a MUST READ. I’m not at all surprised that it was nominated for several awards. An incredible piece of story-telling!
My heart was in my mouth all the way through Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 June 2020 Tomos is a fantastic narrator and he enthralled me even though he is only 5. His story is a scary one; in fact, it's downright terrifying and sadly all too believable. The only time this unputdownable book stalled for me was when the hard-pressed social workers were making misjudgements and leaving him in peril. Despite everyone's good intentions, Tomos is left alone at home to fend for himself and he witnesses something no-one should ever see, especially at the tender age of five. His voice is authentic and rang true all the way through with that innocent logic we all seem to lose as we age. I could hear him clearly in my head and my own voice yelling at him to get out of harm's way. No spoilers here but the ending was both emotional and perfect.
This book was both wonderful and heartbreaking. I raced through it and it kept me up late at night because I was desperate to find out what would happen to next and so concerned about what would happen to Tomos. Tomos was such a believable character and I was heavily invested in his story. While it was horrific to feel first hand the kind of things he had to go through it was also great for raising awareness and really making people realise what neglect and abuse can look like.
I hope that the happier ending will mean that life will get easier for Tomos and he will be shown the love, affection and attention that every child deserves rather than what he had for the first few years of his life. Wonderfully written and very involving. Would recommend to anyone!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Tomos lives with his mammy. He used to live elsewhere in the place he thought of as home with people he loved but he’s not allowed to see those people anymore. He is five years old and loves school. Miss teaches him and she listens to him. Sometimes he is hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches and a coat from lost property so he isn’t cold at playtimes. Bad people want to come into his house and Mammy has told him not to open the door but the men break in and Tomos’ world will never be the same again.
This story is told by Tomos who is five years old. As an LSA who works in a school, this is an excellent book which everyone should read. I loved this story, Tomos will stay with me for a long time to come.
Told from the perspective of five-year old Tomas, this story of neglect, abuse and the effects of poverty, addiction, and mental illness is disturbing and not easy to read. The care and concern of others around Tomas overshadows the darkness here. It is uneven, a first novel and although Tomas’s inner voice wanders from child to adult to convey the story, the author manages to pull it off overall. I do question the picture of social services is authentically painted, it’s a bit too rosy.
Not Thomas is utterly heart-wrenching. It is told from the viewpoint of Tomos, a five year old boy, and while his language may be simple and easy to read, the content is anything but. Tomos is a bright, cheerful and resourceful little boy but he is thoroughly neglected. Unable to see the foster family he loves, ignored by his addict mother and her dangerous boyfriend and failed by overstretched social workers he is helped by a kind if somewhat misguided teacher. Highly recommended if you like an emotional read, but be warned - it's a tear-jerker. Keep a box of tissues handy.
“Imagine you’re five, alone in the house, and someone gets in.”
Want to find out? Well that teaser of a moment happens 3/4 of the way through and lasts about 5 pages.
Overall, the book is too ‘on the nose’ and lacks subtlety. The shocking moments or so heavily saturated throughout the book that you can see them coming a mile off and they lack any real impact beyond the surface. The only positive is that it’s a quick read but I found myself less interested and invested as the book went on.
Don’t read on the basis of the tag line (or indeed the blurb on the back) - you’ll be disappointed.