The Space We’re In

Katya Balen

The Space We’re In

Katya Balen

We are her world and her universe and her space and her sky and her galaxy and her cosmos too.
The Space We’re In is about two brothers: Max, who is autistic, and Frank, who is not. Frank is ten. He likes cottage pie and football and cracking codes. Max is five. He only eats Quavers and some colours are too bright for him and if he has to wear a new T-shirt he melts down down down. Max is loud and fast and kind and quick and loving and stubborn and clever and annoying. Above all he is Max and he is fiercely loved. Frank is gentle and quiet and sensitive and bright and thoughtful. He may not have the brother he expected, but he has his brother.
It is a story about siblings, about finding our space in the universe, about grief, and most of all it is about love. Frank and Max have a complex relationship, like any siblings. They both face challenges – some of these challenges are the same, and some of them are very different. Their own differences can create friction, but it is learning to sit in each other’s worlds that allows their relationship to bloom. When tragedy hits Frank and Max’s lives like a comet, what will it take for Frank to piece together a universe in which he and Max aren’t light years apart?

The Space We’re In is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my life. It grabs you right from the start and keep you reading through the night wanting to find out the ending. Rarely have I come across a book as eloquent in vocabulary and emotion as this one. You view this world through Franks’ eyes, through his trauma and sadness to his happiness.

Frank isn’t the perfect child and he knows he isn’t. Yet his world isn’t perfect. His brother has autism and at times the family and Frank struggle to cope with him. This book deals with a difficult phase in life, where Frank is going into Year 6 (in England that’s just before they move to secondary. Max is also due a new challenge as he heads off to school for the first time, at a spaceship school, as Frank sees it. It covers the next year of their lives as Frank struggles with his feelings amid a tragedy that rips the heart of the family away.

This book is a triumph, a look into a very difficult situation yet it’s also so uplifting to read. You will laugh and cry with Frank all the way through. Words like stunning debut are quite often thrown around like candy these days, but this is one time I’d use it. It’s mature in its content yet accessible for its chosen age group. The word crossover comes to mind, but as someone who thinks adults should read children’s books, it’s a bit glib. Any adult who reads this will understand the quality of children’s fiction is a lot higher than adult.

So I expect this book to be on book awards lists across the country this next year. It’s a truly beautiful and heartwarming story in the vein of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nigh time’, ‘The London Eye Mystery’ and even ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’. This is a book that deserves high applause.

I was given this book by the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review.

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