Small Spaces

Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1) by Katherine Arden

My Rating: ####/5

GoodReads Rating: 4.03/5

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.” – GoodReads

Small Spaces is just such a fun read – perfect for October.  This is Arden’s debut middle grade novel and it is insanely creepy and scary.  Seriously, it’s a children’s book that I couldn’t read at night but could not wait to get back into the following morning. 

Characters:

The characters are diverse in age, gender and ethnicity which makes it a modern and relatable read for younger readers.  Olivia (Ollie) has a strong, well-rounded personality, but is struggling to move on after her tragic loss.

World-building:

The subtle fantasy and parallel worlds are sewn together in a sensible and logic manner and makes the story flow smoothly and is easy to follow.  The setting is perfectly normal during the day, and downright terrifying at night.

Themes:

Themes for younger readers in Small Spaces include:

  • Literary works such as Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Bravery
  • Teamwork
  • Grief and overcoming loss
  • Anxiety

Plot:

Small Spaces is told from Ollie’s point of view.  Ollie is trying to come to terms with her grief and is thrown into a mysterious world of creepy scarecrows, the smiling man and a very peculiar farm with two unlikely friends when she discovers a weird looking book.  The dialogue is fast-paced and jam-packed with quippy remarks and recognizable “tween-chatter”.  The mystery of the smiling man is unpredictable and is complimented with several supporting characters and plot twists.

In my completely biased opinion, Katherine Arden can write a paragraph as follow: “blah blah blah, write, write, write, nonsense, a bunch of squiggles and some punctuation, blah blah blah” and I would call it a literary masterpiece!

My favorite quotes from Small Spaces (contains spoilers):

“Even bad things can lead to good. Maybe in sad times, it helps to think of that.”

“Alice in Wonderland,” said Brian. “Remember? ‘How do you know I’m mad?’ asked Alice.” “‘You must be,’” Ollie said, finishing the quotation slowly, “‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’” Brian buried his face in his hands.

Coco didn’t cry because she was weak. Coco cried because she felt things. Ollie never cried because she didn’t feel things. Not anymore. Not really. She tried not to feel things.