Book Review: October October

Title: October October

Written by: Katya Balen

Illustrated by: Angela Harding

Published by: Bloomsbury

A captivating story about a young girl coming to terms with dramatic changes to her lifestyle. Katya Balen weaves an intriguing tale of family relationships and building friendships, which tugs at the heart strings and is unforgettable.

October has been bought up by her father in the forest. She helps her father coppice the trees and views herself as part of the ‘circle of life’. She finds an abandoned baby owl, names it ‘Stig’ and takes care of it. On her eleventh birthday her estranged mother comes to see her and October climes the tallest tree in the forest to hide. Her dad follows her and falls. He is taken to the hospital and to October’s horror she has to go live with her mother in London and Stig has to go to a bird sanctuary.

Katya is an expert at creating vivid, lyrical descriptions to evoke all of the reader’s senses. I particularly enjoyed the way she uses the shape of word, the space and position of the words on the page to emphasise dramatic moments, such as when dad falls from the tree. Also, how poetry is mixed with prose to compare October’s life in the forest to life in London.

Throughout the book all conversations are echoed in October’s thoughts but we never see the actual physical speech on the page, which underscores October’s social deficiencies. It is evident that October’s communication skills are limited and she take everything very literally as she has lived her whole life alone with her father who could understand her but has never had to communicate with others.

The black and White illustrations of the owl scattered on the corner of the pages by Angela Harding depict Stig the Owl at different stages of its lifecycle. They are a beautiful additions that add depth to the story mirroring the text how life goes on and things change as they get older. We see October grow, adapt and change and learn to merge old elements of her life with the new.

October October the ideal book for prompting discussion about our environment, friendship and identity. Also, a great book for both adult and children’s book groups.

This book was previously reviewed for Armadillo Magazine.

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