Title: Small Spaces
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Puffin Books
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: 256 pages
Source: I borrowed it from the library.
Rating: 4 Stars
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who 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.
Captivated by the tale, Ollie begins to wonder if the smiling man might be real when she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about on a school trip to a nearby farm. Then, later, when her school bus breaks down on the ride home, the strange bus driver tells Ollie and her classmates: “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 begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed these warnings. 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.
Content Warning: Bullying, grief, depression, and death of a parent. I will briefly mention mental health and the death of a parent in my review.
It’s never too late to try again.
One of my favourite things about this tale was how it played around with certain stereotypes about gender roles and race. All of the characters were well-rounded people whose interests were not necessarily constrained by what others assumed someone of their sex or race would be into. Even characters who seemed to fit the mould at first glance were filled with wonderful surprises once I got to know them better. What made this even better was how natural it felt for them and their storylines. They simply were who they were without pretence. That’s exactly the sort of stuff I want to read about!
I would have liked to see more attention paid to the ending. The author was working with so many different plot points that she unfortunately didn’t seem to have quite enough time to wrap everything up satisfactorily for this reader. I know this is the beginning of a series, so I’m hoping that the sequels will dive much more deeply into the sudden death of Ollie’s mother and how Ollie’s mental health has fared since that tragedy. Her grief was explored thoroughly. If everything else had been given the same treatment, I would have gone with a five star rating as I deeply enjoyed it in general.
The storyline was filled with twists and turns that made me smile. I especially appreciated how the author included the horror genre without making anything gory or gross. The mere thought of being chased by scarecrows for reasons still unknown to the audience until much later in the plot was enough to make me shudder! This is the sort of psychological horror I’m irresistibly drawn to, and it’s a fantastic introduction to the genre for anyone who might not have given it a try before.
Small Spaces was a delightfully spooky book to read on a dark, chilly night.