Autumn is my favourite season and October, October by Katya Balen comprises everything I love about it. Before properly getting into the review I have to confess I’ve looked for the roots of this passion I have for autumn, specifically for October. Thankfully there is such a thing as a reverse due date calculator, which is exactly the opposite of a due date calculator. I have done the tests and I found out the approximate date my parents conceived me. And guess what? It happened in October. I’m sure that was an absolutely necessary information there was no possible way to live without, but now I find myself constrained to move on to the novel.
October, October is a whimsical middle grade novel about a little girl and her dad living in the wilderness, growing their own vegetables and befriending stars and trees, owls and squirrels and everything you could possibly think of when hearing of nature. Their seemingly perfect lives are somewhat disturbed, I dare saying, and ultimately changed on October’s birthday, when the woman who “calls herself October’s mother” comes back. After reading the blurb I was somewhat reserved in regards to the pace of the novel, I expected it to start slowly and progressively go by faster up until the end. However, I was wrong. Although some might find the first couple of “chapters” a little slower, I loved reading them so much I kept re-reading certain passages. Katya Balen had my heart when she started depicting nature – I’m a sucker for nature imagery and long old sentences depicting changing colours, falling leaves and trees reaching to the skies – and from that point I knew it will be one of those books that remind me how much I love being an avid reader.
Not only the world building and manner of writing is delicate, but the portrayal of characters as well. Taking into account that the book, to some degree, is a novel of contrasts (the darkness of the woods and the blinding hospital lights, for instance), characters are portrayed and often contrasted with other characters (nature loving, wild October and her Londoner, “tame” mother). What I found to be even more outstanding is how the author focuses on relationships that clearly change for the better throughout the novel. Unlike in other books, nothing feels forced between the characters and everything feels just so … real. Besides the comforting story, there are quite a few illustrations by Angela Harding, which I can only praise for her artistic skills; they added another dimension and feeling to the novel as a whole.
I cannot recommend October, October highly enough: such a captivating story shouldn’t be overlooked or missed out on, not by middle graders and definitely not by adults. If anything, I would suggest it to those who are looking for bits and pieces of childhood melancholy or just a cozy read on a rainy autumn day. While writing the review I realised how much I would’ve loved it to be amongst the stories my grandparents read or told me, and that says a lot about it.
Title: October, October
Author: Katya Balen
Illustrations: Angela Harding
Publication Date: 2020
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing