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October, October by Katya Balen

I always think of October, October as the perfect read for the end of the year. Autumnal and wintery, and so beautifully written, you can’t help but fall in love with this wonderful book.

Nobody else writes quite like Katya Balen. The story is lyrical and engaging, raw and so realistic that many children will be able to resonate with October. Even though she leads an unconventional life, October’s wit and sensitivity make her relatable. Balen writes from October’s perspective so convincingly that every word gives us a deeper insight into her world.

October lives in the woods with her Dad, and that’s the way it always has been. They spend their days growing their own vegetables, developing energy sources, and helping the animals that live around them. They swim in the lake and build bonfires, they explore the woods and climb the trees in wellington boots. Every year, they plant a tree for October’s birthday, and she makes up stories that her Dad loves. Everything is perfect, and October cannot imagine living any other way.

Until the year October turns eleven. This is the year she finds a baby owl called Stig who needs her help, and a lost ring which she is convinced has a story behind it. Her next adventure is about to begin. But then October’s Dad has an accident and is taken to a hospital in London. So the woman who is October’s mother shows up, and takes her to London too. But October has never been to the big city - she hates the noise, the bright lights, the crowds, the tight houses, the roaring roads. And she hates this woman who is her mother, who makes her live in a sandwiched brick house and makes her go to school for the first time.

October covers her ears and closes her eyes. She misses her woods, she misses her house, and she misses her Dad. Visiting him in the hospital isn’t the same - it’s bright and busy and pungently sanitised. The trees are waiting for them to go home; the lake is waiting for them to kick deep into the muddy cold water under the sunset. But October is stuck in London. She has no choice but to invent a new story… and maybe it will be an adventure afterall.

Balen’s writing is poetic and unique - it portrays October so confidently, vulnerably, boldly and bravely. October tells the story of what happens after her eleventh birthday, and all of the adventures that come with it. October, October is a story about telling stories, and Katya Balen does it masterfully.


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