Title: October, October
Author: Katya Balen
Published: 29th September 2020
Synopsis: Katya Balen’s October, October is a very special new addition to the shelf and deserves classic status – Times Children’s Book of the Week
A classic in the making for anyone who ever longed to be WILD.
October and her dad live in the woods. They sleep in the house Dad built for them and eat the food they grow in the vegetable patches. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They read the books they buy in town again and again until the pages are soft and yellow – until next year’s town visit. They live in the woods and they are wild.
And that’s the way it is.
Until the year October turns eleven. That’s the year October rescues a baby owl. It’s the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October’s mother comes back. The year everything changes.
Written in Katya Balen’s heart-stoppingly beautiful style, this book is a feast for the senses, filled with the woodsmoke smell of crisp autumn mornings and the sound of wellies squelching in river mud. And, as October fights to find the space to be wild in the whirling chaos of the world beyond the woods, it is also a feast for the soul.
It seems fitting that a book called October, October comes out on the cusp of September and October, that strange time of seasonal transition for spring in the southern hemisphere, and autumn in the northern hemisphere. October is about to turn eleven, and so far, her world has been peaceful as she lives in the woods with her father. then the woman said to be her mother appears, and things go wrong. October is wrenched into a new life. Can October find her wild self in this new world, or will she find a new way to be wild, and new ways of being in her life from now on?
October, October is lyrical and meditative, a celebration of history, wilderness, family, love and mudlarking. It is an ode to being yourself, even when it feels like you can’t, and when it feels like everything is closing in on you. October is the kind of character who is unique, but can fit in anywhere, and where her interests are piqued in the worlds she moves between. Though she is reluctant at first, October soon finds her way through the world she’s relegated to for most of the book. She misses her dad, and the woods, and Stig, the owl she rescued.
The lyrical way the book is written pulls you along, and I read this one in two sittings – I almost finished it in one, however. I found once I got into the story, I was compelled to read onwards and find out what was happening. The entire book is written in October’s perspective, and through her experiences. Her wild experiences versus the suffocating ones.
The contrast of the freedom of the woods is stark against London, and the feeling of autumn – the changing leaves, the wind, the scent of campfires and soft marshmallows give this novel its evocative and sensory feel as October navigates a new world. Readers are introduced to the world of mudlarking along the Thames, the practise of digging in the squelchy mud for lost treasure from across time – pipes, metal, and the implications of being different in a world where every seems to prefer uniformity. October is neurodiverse, and she likes her world, her processes. This novel gives great insight and empathy for October and seeing the world through her eyes provides greater understanding to where she is coming from, and how she responds to the world.
It gives people like October, who are wild and individual, who may not always cope with certain routines and situations a voice. It teaches people about them, how to connect with them and allows the characters to find a middle ground to communicate and live with each other. The special interest of owls and mudlarking form a big part of the novel and who October is, and this is done so beautifully, there were moments I wondered if I had read the pages, because it felt like the story unfolded so fluidly in my mind, that everything fell into place like a movie.
A lovely middle grade story that is heartbreaking and hopeful, and defines friendship and love in a myriad of different ways.