Eleven year old October – named for the month she was born in – lives in the forest with her dad. She refuses to see her mum who lives far away in London and, in October’s eyes, abandoned her and her dad. Yet October is happy with the way things are – she doesn’t go to school, preferring to live as wild as she can in the woods, learning about nature and doing things the old-fashioned way with Dad.
Yet, when her mum reappears on October’s twelfth birthday, Dad is horribly injured in an accident and October is forced to leave her wild home in the woods to stay in London with her mum. Everything in the city is wrong, from the cars and underground trains that make her sick to school, where the other kids tease her. Worst of all, October hates her mother and refuses all her efforts to build a relationship – all she wants is to go home with Dad.
Gradually, though, as Dad slowly recovers in hospital, October starts to adjust to her tamed city life, making friends with a boy in her class and discovering the semi-wildness that is mudlarking on the Thames. Slowly, October lets her mum in to her heart, and life starts to change for the better. Can October and Dad ever return to the wild? Or are there some things about the city that aren’t so bad after all?
Balen’s immensely touching, well-written story about the pleasures and perils of wildness combines a lush, autumnal sensibility with a perceptive story about a transitional phase in a young girl’s life. There is much here about what it’s like to live in an estranged family, but also about the power of friendship and the ordinary things that give necessary structure to children’s lives like school and activities.