Tomos, who is five, 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 loves school where Miss teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. There are things that Tomos can’t talk about and then – just before Easter, 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 chair where Tomos hides whenever there’s a knock at the door, he waits. But when the men get in, Tomos’s world is turned on its head and nothing will ever be the same again.

This is an account of how children slip through the cracks in an over-burdened child protection system where everything is a priority

The book, insightfully and empathically written by Sara Gethin, is the back-story to those moments when a media headline stops you in your tracks and you think ‘How could that happen to a child?’ The narrative is written from Tomos’s perspective, and embroidered through the horrifying, monotonous reality of child abuse and neglect, are the threads of Tomos’s existence, which slowly unravel as we get to know about his life, his family and friends.

This is an account of how children slip through the cracks in an over-burdened child protection system where everything is a priority. The themes are hard-hitting and tough, but the warmth and sympathy that Sara Gethin draws from the reader somewhat sugar the pill. A balance is provided by some truly uplifting, heartwarming moments.

Tomos’s world is underpinned by neglect and abuse. His mother Rhiannon (Ree) has significant problems of her own and doesn’t wish for Tomos to be one of them. Ree’s partner Brick sees Tomos as an insignificant nuisance. At home, the one place where Tomos deserves to feel safe, he instead feels isolated, fearful, hungry and cold. Not having a wider understanding of the world, Tomos doesn’t see the complexities and indignities of his life which scream to the reader from the pages of the book.

There are moments when the sun shines into Tomos’s life, in particular in the kindness shown to him by his teacher and his friend Kaylee’s mum, but Tomos’s vulnerability is exploited by adults and peers alike. There are few people to whom he can turn. Tomos has no contact with any other family members. He doesn’t understand why he isn’t allowed to have any contact with Dat and he no longer sees his Nanno, with whom he tries to stay in touch by letter. The lady across the street peers at him through her net curtains but when Tomos waves to her she quickly disappears. When ‘the lady with the bag’ tries to visit Tomos isn’t allowed to open the door and the scheduled visits give his mother plenty of notice to prepare the pallet of lies upon which her son’s life and welfare precariously balance. When the lady with the bag does get to see Tomos, she doesn’t get his name right; He’s not Thomas. Tomos is constantly being disappointed when his low level expectations of his mother are not met and his disappointments always conflict painfully with the love he feels for her. Tomos describes how hard it is to do things ‘when there’s a big lump of sad in your tummy.’

you’d be hard pressed to find a work of fiction in this field with the child’s perspective so skillfully represented

So is this yet another book about child neglect and why would this be a theme you’d want to choose as a summer read? This is a subject that is now so widely covered it has its own genre in bookstores. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a work of fiction in this field with the child’s perspective so skillfully represented. For such an intense subject matter, there is a gentle innocence in Tomos’s account that serves to make the themes more palatable. Tomos’s perspective simplifies the plot and there is therefore a welcome lack of technicality and jargon that makes this a one-sitting read. Later in the story, when suddenly events take a more dramatic turn, their impact is terrifyingly shocking, partly because the reader becomes aware of how acclimatised they have become to the danger and abuse from which Tomos cannot escape.

This is a compelling read. Those who don’t have any experience of the child protection arena may find some of the plot sensational at times; Those who do will connect to this story because they know that the truth is woefully stranger than fiction. The honesty and lack of sentimentality with which this story is written is enough to make it deserve to be picked up off the shelf. The themes and questions raised by the story make it a perfect read for a book club. You will finish this book and not only want to give it to the stranger next to you on the bus, the beach, the hotel dining room, but to beg them to read it.

Not Thomas is published by Honno and is available to buy now

Honno is an independent co-operative press run by women and committed to bringing you the best in Welsh women’s writing.