Genre: middle grade horror
Format: audio book
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Published: September 25th 2018
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.
“Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.”
With Halloween fast approaching, I wanted to find a spooky read to get myself in the proper mood on the last weekend of October. After reading and loving City of Ghosts earlier this month, I decided to give another middle grade horror book a try and was super intrigued by Small Spaces when I saw a fellow bookstagrammer give it a sterling review. Needless to say it was the best decision I ever made so my review will be a sterling one as well.
I’ve never been much of a middle grade reader but I absolutely loved Small Spaces. Katherine Arden’s writing was amazing and sucked me in right away, and I was very much impressed by how she managed to write a sufficiently scary story without making it utterly terrifying for young readers. That didn’t mean of course, that there weren’t any creepy moments in the book because trust me, there were plenty! Seeing that the book was written for ages eight to twelve, I didn’t expect to be as spooked as I was while listening to it. It may have something to do with the very talented narrator who managed to make her voice sound completely different for each character (sometimes sounding downright creepy) but I can easily say Small Spaces was one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. It gave me chills so many times and felt like reading a classic Goosebumps book when I was younger which was honestly the best feeling! Besides, who doesn’t love a chilly read close to Halloween?
Ollie, the main character, was easily the best part of the book for me. Aside from the delightfully spooky moments in it, of course. At eleven years old she was one of the bravest protagonists I’ve even encountered and I got invested in her story pretty much from the first page. Not only because she managed to face the terrifying situation she found herself in without bursting into screaming every five seconds (because honestly I would have) but mostly because she had the courage of heart to make the decisions she made and especially in the end. I also loved her personality, which was strong and feisty despite the fact she mostly kept to herself, and couldn’t help but relate to her love of books. My heart warmed at every Narnia and Alice in Wonderland reference and I’m so glad the writer decided to include them.
I also want to give an ode to Katherine Arden for writing about trauma in her story and passing the massage that it can eventually be overcome one way or another. Ollie has lost her mom and that defines ever aspect of her character, as is normal. And while it’s ironic that she had to go through another traumatic experience to overcome her trauma. it goes to show that we can all come out of a dark situation as long as we find the strength inside of us.
I should probably bring this review to an end but not before I mention the two secondary characters, Coco and Brian. Ollie’s crew if you’d like to call them even though they started off as enemies (or at least not friends) in the beginning of the book. Just like Ollie, Coco and Brian were very real and very well developed and I loved getting to know each of them. Brian, the seemingly popular athletic boy who turned out to be a huge reader, won me over right away. Mostly because he beat the stereotype that says jocks can’t be readers and readers can’t be popular kids and because his character that there is more to people than what appears to be from the outside. The same applies to Coco who showed an impressive strength of personality you could never guess she had just by looking at her.
And maybe calling them secondary characters is not entirely correct because – even though they weren’t narrators in the book – they were so important to the story that I know the story wouldn’t be the same without them. I loved getting to know each of their strengths (and Ollie’s) and loved seeing how they shared these strengths with each other and how their friendship grew by the end of the book. I know Ollie wouldn’t have gotten very far without either of them and that’s another thing I have to applaud Katherine Arden on. The fact that she showed how important friendship is and how much you need your friends to help you deal with the bad situations. Even if those friends are completely different than you, appearance or personality wise.
Final rating: So five full stars for this and if you’re looking for a spooky read, this is definitely a book you should pick up. If you’re a fan of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Small Spaces will be a gem for you. It might not make you lose your sleep (it is intended for children after all) but it will definitely make you shudder and it will be totally worth the chills! And if you’re not afraid of scarecrows, well… you’re about to be!