It is twenty-six days before Max starts at his new school.
Max is five and has autism. He doesn’t speak, just hums and destroys. Frank, his brother, is ten. He wants to do normal things; be normal. He can’t because his house is a howling jungle and Max a hurricane.
Frank has his books on detectives and codes and space. And a lock on his bedroom door. Before Max was born, he wanted to be like Tintin who solved puzzles and codes and crimes. He wanted to learn coding used in computers. But dad never had the time.
Mum was an artist until she gave it up when Max was born. Now her life is Max’s needs while Frank has become a glass child.
Mum tries to share special time with Frank; to create memorable activities to make up for the repetition of daily life required by Max. In particular, Mum’s tapping of Morse code in Frank’s palm is an invaluable resource to Frank; to his love of numbers and coding. It makes him forget the bully Noah who constantly makes fun of Max in an attempt to get Frank fired up. It helps him remember how life was before. Although he loves his brother deeply, he resents the demands on Mum’s time and his life.
But there is Mark next door and his dog Neil. Both are a healing balm to both boys.
There is a lightness of tone in the paragraphs describing the closeness shared by Mum and Frank. This lightness is juxtaposed with the heaviness contained in the paragraphs about Max and the family’s struggles, such as when raging hot screams inside Frank can only be expressed in words of red ink on as much wall as he can reach.
The feelings, experiences and emotions are given to us in chains of descriptive images, so beautifully constructed, that the eyes refuse to leave the page.
It is one hundred and nineteen days since Life gave Frank and his family a devastating blow from which they believed they will never recover, and Frank’s eleventh birthday. Can the family find the courage they need to survive the greatest tragedy of their life?
Katya Balen in her debut novel, gifts us an exquisite narrative voice in Frank in a unique style. The reader is drawn into the emotional turmoil of the family’s life, and shares their experiences and coping mechanisms. Laura Carlin’s fine lined, black and white child-like images, accompany the text.
Change occurs; hope is born and more than ever, it is love for one another that keeps the family from slipping into the chasm that has opened before them.
Title: The Space We’re In
Author: Katya Balen
Illustrator: Laura Carlin
Publisher: Bloomsbury, $16.99
Publication Date: November 2019
For ages: 9 – 12
Type: Teenage Fiction