The Space We’re In – Katya Balen

 The Space We’re In – Katya Balen, Margaret Ferguson Books; (9780823442898), 2019

Format: hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? Frank is ten years old and his little brother Max is five. Frank is obsessed with ciphers and soccer and loves playing in the woods with his two best friends, Ahmed and Jamie. Max has autism and the family’s life revolves around his needs and meltdowns. Max only eats white food, only talks with his hands and picture cards, and has destructive fits that exhaust everyone. Frank notices that his mother is getting more and more tired and worn down and blames his brother for the change. The entire family is stressed about Max’s impending start in public school; he attended preschool years prior and it was not a successful experience. Frank wishes he didn’t have a brother and jealously guards the rare times he has alone with his mother. 

Told in spare, honest prose from Frank’s point of view, The Space We’re In lays bare Frank’s anger and ultimately his shame over his relationship with his brother. “I still have to eat vegetables and I don’t think that’s fair but life’s not fair says Dad and I think that’s true or Max wouldn’t be here.” Readers will be drawn into the family’s drama and will be unable to put this book down, especially once an unexpected tragedy occurs that makes everything much more difficult. Frank, like many children, is surprisingly insightful about his brother and their relationship. Readers will enjoy seeing that relationship change and grow in a natural way. This is a stunning debut novel that belongs in every elementary and middle school library.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students who enjoy reading emotional books or books with autistic characters will love this one.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  At first I struggled with the ten year old voice the author uses, but I came to love it. I didn’t decode all the chapter headings, but I bet most students will love doing it. The teacher in the book assigns a family tree project, which Frank and Max complete together. Ultimately it’s a beautiful ending, but it doesn’t alter my intense hatred of family tree projects. (not every child has two parents or even any parents).

Who should buy this book? All elementary and middle school libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Realistic fiction 

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? YES

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date reviewed: October 23, 2019


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