Katya Balen’s first novel The Space We’re In was Highly Commended for the 2020 Branford Boase Award. With her second novel she has produced another lyrical text that takes readers into the thoughts and feelings of a young person. October thrives on living in the woods with her father who has always nurtured her and allowed her to discover the world through experience and through reading. The year October turns eleven, the person she describes as ‘the woman who is my mother’, a phrase that is an acknowledgement at the same time as having a distancing effect, comes back into her life. An accident befalls her father which necessitates a radical change for October as she moves in with her mother in the city.
Laura Carlin’s illustrations were an important complement to the words in Katya Balen’s earlier book as are, in this beautifully produced volume, Angela Harding’s vignettes of the baby owl that October finds and which is a motif throughout the novel. The cover is stunning and puts this novel in the category of what I call a ‘strokeable’ book.
The language used is poetic. Just to pick an extract more or less at random ‘I knew how to grow an oak from a tiny green twiggy sapling and how to tame a tree and I knew how to smell snow on the air before it fell and I knew how to be wild’ (p44). At times the text is set out in the shape of a poem.
In addition to appreciating the writing and illustrations and the life affirming storytelling, there are plenty of cross curricular links that can be made – with science, geography and history. Scavenging in the woods and mudlarking by the River Thames play an important role in the book.