THE SPACE WE’RE IN

‘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?

Genre: Children and Teenage Fiction

Age appropriate: 9 +

Date of Publication: 17/09/2020

Author/Illustrator/Publisher:

Katya Balen is the writer of this beautiful and heart-breaking story. This is Katya’s first novel. One of her interests is in the effect of literature on the behaviour of children on the autism spectrum. She has worked in special schools and is a co-founder of Mainspring Arts, which is are dedicated to increasing neurodiversity in the arts.

The book is illustrated by Laura Carlin who is an award-winning ceramicist and illustrator.

This wonderful book was published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. which is an independent publishing house.

Rating: 5/5

Review:

This book has become one of my favourites from my reads this year. This is a book that made me cry, laugh, worry and I felt part of the story. The story is told by Frank who is only 10 years old and who is a boy that enjoys football, playing with his friends and that loves cracking codes. His brother Max is just 5 years old and he is autistic, he has a lot of meltdowns and doesn’t talk but loves looking baby catalogues. Frank’s mum used to be an artist and used to paint stars and asteroids and his dad goes to work and doesn’t come back until it is almost bed time. 

Frank has a hard time understanding the needs of his younger brother and there are so many times where he feels ashamed of Max and felt that he was ruining his life. He wishes his brother was normal but he knows that he loves him and feels guilty as he let some friends make fun of him.  Tragedy strikes his family and at first Max and Frank don’t know how to coexist but soon they discover that they need each other to cope with the new situation and Frank will realize that, despite his communication problems, they can help each other with their situation.  The author has managed to write a compelling story about grief, family and acceptance through the eyes of two small children in a complex and sensitive way which makes the story grounded and realistic.

Katya was able to write from a child’s point of view which is amazing as not a lot of writers can achieve this in a believable way. Her writing shows a strong familiarity with autistic children and their families, she does not portray the autistic child as a genius with poor social skills as we see in a lot of popular culture.  The struggles that a family goes through when a child is autistic is well written and extremely accurate as are the descriptions of the meltdown and the resources that are available to help them to communicate. Families experience a lot of anxiety around their loved ones with autism and sometimes day to day tasks could take longer or feel impossible to complete which the writer represented with painful accuracy. 

The narrative of the book is wonderful, sensitive, heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. There is grief and love and the story is just so engaging (I couldn’t put the book down) and the illustrations and abstract images are just so unique and they complemented the story and reflected what the author was telling us so accurately that just by looking to some of them will make you feel feelings. The cover is just gorgeous and portrays the two brothers together in their universe. Another thing I loved was that each chapter was ‘numbered’ or rather ‘titled’ with a A1Z26 cipher which is a fancy way to say its in a simple code where 1=A, 2=B, 3=C and so on. This was an interesting idea and reflected Franks interest in codes.

This book is hard for me to criticise as I absolutely loved it and I think that a lot of children and adults would love it too. However, although this is a children’s book I feel that not all children would be captivated by it as the topics are very mature and there is a tragedy in the story which a lot of children would not want to read about. If a younger child had no familiarity with what it was like to have an autistic sibling, they may not feel much engagement with the story although older children and adults will be able to empathise with the characters due to the exceptional quality of the writing and the complex and developed relationships between them.

This book touched my heart and now is proudly displaying on my bookshelf. One of my favourites books from this year and I will highly recommend people to read it.

Tip: Grab some tissues before starting reading it. 

Availability: You can get the book at the Bloomsbury website and all Good bookshops in both Hardcover and Paperback.

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