Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Space We're In by Katya Balen illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Space We're In by Katya Balen illustrated by Laura Carlin
November 2019 Bloomsbury


We are her world and her universe and her space and her stars and her sky and her galaxy and her cosmos too.

Frank is ten. He likes cottage pie and football and cracking codes. Max is five. He eats only Quavers and some colours are too bright for him and if he has to wear a new T-shirt he melts down down down.

Sometimes Frank wishes Mum could still do huge paintings of stars and asteroids like she used to, but since Max was born she just doesn't have time.

When tragedy hits Frank and Max's lives like a comet, can Frank piece together a universe in which he and Max aren't light years apart?

This jaw-dropping, heartbreaking and hopeful novel from debut author Katya Balen will remind you we are all made of stardust. For fans of thought-provoking, moving middle grade from Wonder to Skellig.

This would have to be one of my favourites from this year, a real stand out.
I have said it before.  My favourite books are the ones that kind of come out of nowhere, where there’s no expectation, and WHAM…you’re hit with a book that makes its way into your heart.

Reading the blurb again now, I know that I should have known what was coming, but I was so absorbed in the story of Frank and Max, that I forgot something terrible was going to happen.

So let’s start with Frank and Max.  I loved reading Frank’s story about what is was like to have a brother like Max.  Max’s autism, that rules the lives of the family.  Frank’s frustration, embarrassment and anger, that’s it’s always about Max…but also the love, care and thoughtfulness he shows his brother.  It made me think of Via’s chapter in Wonder (RJ Palacio) giving a real insight into what it’s like to be the sibling of a child that takes up so much of the parent’s time, and the conflicting emotions.  Max’s joy at spending time with ‘just his Mum’ or ‘just his Dad’ is heartbreaking, especially when he breaks his arm, and he is in excruciating pain…but he’s also happy because it’s just he and his Mum in the car.

Then there’s the terrible thing.  By the time it happened, I was expecting it, but I still felt it.  

I read a digital prof of this, but having seen a finished copy, I call tell you it has lots of illustrations strewn throughout, as well as interesting shaped text, almost like shape poems.  The other cool and quirky thing about this book, is that Frank loves codes.  That's one special thing that he and his Mum had.  She would leave messages for him and talk to him in their special code  Frank's favourite code is the number spiral cipher and each of the chapters have number headings, not words, so you have to crack the code.

For example:

Chapter 1 is:
13 5 12 20 4 15 23 14 = MELTDOWN

Chapter 2 is:
3 18 15 19 19 = CROSS

As I said, this is a stand out for me this year, not in the least because of it's sensitive and honest depiction of autism, and how autism affects a family.  There have been a few other books with autistic characters that I have read recently, see below for other books with characters on the spectrum. 

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