Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Not Thomas by Sara Gethin
Release Date: 15th June 2017
Publisher: Honno Press
Genres: Fiction
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.


The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. And knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m very quiet. I’m very very quiet. I’m waiting for her to go away.
I’ve been waiting a long time.
‘Thomas, Thomas.’ She’s saying it through the letter box.
‘Thomas, Thomas.’
I’m not listening to her. I’m not listening at all. She’s been knocking on the door for a long long time. I’m peeping round the black chair. I’m peeping with one of my eyes. She’s
not by the front door now. She’s by the long window. I can see her shoes. They’re very dirty. If Dat saw those shoes he’d say, ‘There’s a job for my polishing brush’.
She’s stopped knocking. She’s stopped saying ‘Thomas’. She’s very quiet. The lady can’t see me. I’m behind the big black chair. And I’ve pulled my feet in tight.
‘Thomas?’ she says. ‘Thomas?’ I’m not answering. ‘I know you’re in there. Just come to the window, sweetheart. So I can see you properly.’
I’m staying still. I’m not going to the window. I’m waiting for her to go back to her car. It’s a green car. With a big dent in it. If I hide for a long time she’ll go. She’ll get back in her car and drive away. She’s knocking. And knocking again.
She’s saying ‘Thomas.’ And knocking and knocking again.
That is not my name.


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!


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Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli and studied theology and philosophy at Lampeter, the most bijoux of universities. Her working life has revolved around children – she’s been a childminder, an assistant in a children’s library and a primary school teacher. She also writes children’s books as Wendy White, and her first, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014. Her own children are grown up now, and while home is still west Wales, she and her husband spend much of their free time across the water in Ireland. ‘Not Thomas’ is her first novel for adults.

One Response so far.

  1. Thank you so much for your extremely thoughtful review of Not Thomas.
    Sara x

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