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Book Review: The Space We're In by Katya Balen




Synopsis:

'Ten-year-old Frank has trouble navigating his relationship with his younger brother Max who is autistic.


Frank loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max only eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, and if he has to wear a t-shirt that isn't gray with yellow stripes he melts down down down.


Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born--someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan, so he could be the best brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max's behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try and repair their fractured family and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.'


Review:


The Space We're In is a perfect book for neurotypical and neurodivergent children, particularly siblings. Frank clearly loves his brother but in some ways feels he has lost out on the 'sibling experience' he was expecting to have, and does not feel comfortable expressing this to his parents. The author writes in these run-on sentences that convey the anxious and intense energy Frank is feeling when they go out as a family, trying to keep Max happy but getting more and more worked up as Max becomes agitated by his surroundings and other people until he has a meltdown.


Frank understands that Max cannot help having meltdowns and is irritated when people who don't listen or understand try to force Max into situations he isn't comfortable with, but is simultaneously embarrassed by and irked with Max for not being 'normal' and taking all the attention from their mother. Frank understandably feels like he is less important to his parents than Max, so his emotions often take a backseat and he rarely speaks up when he is upset. As Frank is entering his teenage years he starts to become a little resentful of Max, worried about how people at school will treat him [Frank] as teenagers can be pretty ruthless.


When their mother dies, their whole world turns upside down - Dad who was never as naturally good at soothing Max as Mum was, crumbles under the pressure, leaving Frank with a lot of the responsibility of keeping Max happy and calm. Through this set of circumstances, Frank starts to see Max as more than his diagnosis, finding ways to connect to him that he previously thought impossible. In many ways, having Max be there is a great comfort for Frank and brings some stability to his life, especially when their father has become so emotionally unavailable.


As the reader you feel greatly for both boys and Dad, it is impossible not to cry. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially those in families with neurodivergent siblings/ relatives struggling to empathise with each other or voice their frustrations out of guilt.

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