This wonderful, aching, sweet, heart-breaking book absolutely tore me apart and is up there with some of the best books that I’ve read this year. Without a doubt.
Title: October, October
Author: Katya Balen
Illustrator: Angela Harding
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Publication Date: 17th September 2020
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher
Rating: 5 stars
About the Book
October lives in the woods with her Dad. They coppice the trees, take care of the environment around them and grow their own food. They don’t go into the nearest village much more than once a year and October always keeps her eyes squeezed tight shut whilst she’s there – it’s too big, too bright, too loud and she longs to be back in the safety and wilderness of her woods.
Just before her eleventh birthday, October rescues a baby barn owl and, on her birthday itself, the woman who is her mother returns, after October has been steadfastly ignoring her ever since she left them and the woods behind. But it’s also the day when October’s entire way of life changes.
Where do I even begin? First off, the writing was stunning. Balen has gone hard on the Thomas Hardy-style compound adjectives and they work brilliantly. October is a young voice, but she reads a lot and is used to her own company. The way she narrates her own story is the kind that absolutely breaks you as you read it because it’s so raw and unfiltered. She knows one particular way of life that is perfect for her – it is wild and free and she doesn’t want it any other way – until she is dragged kicking and screaming from it. The way that October’s world is written is absolutely beautiful.
Now let’s take the setting – a world of woods that feels so real that you can touch it. I grew up on my own on an isolated farm in the countryside and I feel some of the yearning that October does. Particularly when she’s presented with the absolute antithesis of everything that she’s known for her whole life: London.
Then October herself. She is hard and soft and lost and wild and free. She wants her life – her old life – back more than anything but slowly begins to realise that there are lots of ways of living a life, and that she can choose the right one for her; that there are many different ways of being wild and that it doesn’t involve shutting yourself off from one world just so you can be wholly in another.
She throws tantrums; she shouts and screams. She hates her mother. In some ways all of this should make her unlikeable. But October has never had to communicate like this before. She is hurting and guilty and feels betrayed and she has always just been able to fit in and be understood, as she’s only ever had to talk with herself and her Dad before.
This is a book that is proof of adaptability, of resilience and to be with people and to be free. I loved this and would read it again, and buy it for my own hypothetical children.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.