23 March, 2021

[Review] Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series or Stand Alone: Small Spaces #1
Release Date: 25 September, 2018
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade Horror/Middle Grade Fiction/Supernatural/Spooky/Horror
ASIN: 9780525515029
Edition: Paperback (available in Hardback, ebook, and audiobook)
Review Written: 23 November, 2020
Warnings: Mild body horror, themes of death, ghosts, spoilers past the cut.
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver's warning. As the trio head out into the woods--bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them--the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: "Avoid large places. Keep to small." 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

See more by Katherine Arden at her website.
Let me frame this with I really love Katherine Arden's books. Despite not finishing The Winter of the Witch yet, I've been a fan of hers since I picked up The Bear and the Nightingale. The tales are woven in such a way that it feels organic and flows nicely. So imagine my delight upon realizing that Arden also writes Middle Grade fiction.

Small Spaces, while set in New England, invokes a small-town feeling. Ollie, or Olivia, is a 6th grader at the local middle school. Having suffered the tragic loss of her mother the year previous, Ollie has withdrawn into her own world without much room for anyone else. This include having quit the chess club and softball team. Deciding to seek solace in books, Ollie spends much of her time outdoors in hidden spots to read and enjoy her time away from places that remind her of her mother. It's in one of these places where she meets a woman. A woman who is threatening to throw a book into the water. Stealing the book away, Ollie flees to her home where she gets wrapped up in a book called Small Spaces.

As the description says, the next day is a trip to a local farm called Smoke Hollow. And this, is where everything starts to go wrong. There's a creepy bus driver, a lot of creepy scarecrows, and Ollie's watch keeps giving her life tips on how to survive. With the help of Coco and Brian, Ollie seeks a way to free their classmates and their friends. There are several twists and turns along the way, but many are slightly predictable to older readers. Still, there was enough surprises to keep children interested.

I would definitely recommend this book for upper elementary/lower middle school readers looking to branch out from Goosebumps. I look forward to reading the rest of the series as they come out.

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