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Title: Small Spaces (#1 Small Spaces)
Author: Katherine Arden
Published: 9th of July 2019 – Puffin Books
Format: Paperback – 216 pages
“Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.” – Small Spaces
Hello Hello! How are you?
Today, I have my first master’s class and I’m really looking forward to it! I was going to post another review today, but I decided that I wanted to take my time reading that book, so I went for one I had all ready instead!
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden was our August BOTM for the Middle Grade Marvels book club, we all really enjoyed it, and I definitely need to go buy the second book in this great middle grade horror series! Keep on reading for my thoughts on this spooky autumn read!
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.
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden is a middle grade horror and it’s also the first book in the Small Spaces series. We chose this book for the Middle Grade Marvels BOTM for August and we all loved it so much that many of us actually finished this book a week before the final discussion! I don’t usually read horror, but this year I have been broadening my horizons and I’m actually so glad that someone nominated this book and that it won because I’ve found another favourite middle grade series! Now I just need to buy Dead Voices, the second book in the series while I wait for the third one to be released!
As a side-note before I jump into the review, I just wanted to say that a few people in the Twitter MGM group chat for this book actually told us that each book in this series has a focus on a season. So this book focused on fall/autumn, Dead Voices will focus on winter, the 3rd will focus on spring and the 4th will focus on summer. I thought this was such a great touch to the book and I really appreciated it once I had been told about it!
This book is set in the U.S., in a small town in which Ollie, Brian and Coco go to school together, but they aren’t really friends right at the start of this book. The book doesn’t focus on the actual setting of this town, although there were some scenes inside Ollie’s house, affectionately called the Egg, that were really lovely! Ollie lives in a house which is very colourful, homey, fun and eccentric and I have to say I totally wanted to live in this house too.
The rest of the book focuses on a farm that they visit with their class and it’s at Smoke Hollow that all the events happen. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that this book has atmosphere! And a lot of it. I absolutely loved all the descriptions and had I read this book when it was foggy, rainy and cold, in front of a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate it would have been perfect! This really has that fall/autumn feeling and I loved the spooky vibes I got from the landscape, the farm, the forest, it was very well depicted and I highly recommend this book if you like a good spooky vibe.
Ollie: Ollie is the main character of this book (apparently Coco is the main character in Dead Voices) and straight away, she came across as a very angry, sad young girl. I really felt for Ollie because you know something has happened, but it’s not until later in the book that you really know what. She wants to be alone and angry by herself and this made me so sad because I completely know what that feels like. I loved to learn more about Ollie and to see her band together with Brian and Coco. I’m still not 100% sure what I think about Ollie, but I really enjoyed seeing things through her eyes and the ending made me a bit teary actually!
Brian: We honestly don’t get much about Brian which is such a shame because I thought that he was great! Right at the start, I thought he was awful for picking on Coco, but as you get to know him, you realise he is actually a really sensitive boy and I loved seeing his character evolve. I hope to learn more about him in book 2, and hopefully book 3 will actually be through his perspective.
Coco: Coco was not my favourite character for a while there, she was really whiny and annoying to me, but I let those feelings go once she also evolved more. I’m not sure about Coco either as she is brave and kind, but she is also kind of annoying to me still aha. It’s also really weird for me because we all call my fiancé Coco and I keep imagining him with pink hair and it’s just plain weird okay!
Ollie’s dad: Awww, Ollie’s dad was probably one of my favourite characters actually and that’s because he reminded me so much of my dad. He is such a sweet, caring father and he does his best to look after Ollie, he doesn’t really know how to deal with her emotions I think, but he more than makes up with it thanks to his cooking and baking and just general kindness and love towards Ollie. I have to say, middle grade books have a lot of food descriptions and I love it!
Loss of a loved one/grief/sadness: This was quite a prominent feature of the book, right at the start, we don’t know who is dead, we don’t know how it happened, so I’m not going to spoil you as it happens progressively, but it was really quite sad. If you’ve just lost someone, you might want to wait a while before you read it because it’s a bit much maybe. I thought the grief was well portrayed and I do like seeing these themes in middle grade and children’s books because it makes it easier for children to understand. Ollie is sad and angry, she thinks it’s her fault and I think that’s the reason she wants to be alone, this was really sad to read but as the book goes on and we learn what happened to who, and get to know Ollie more, it makes it even sadder, but I’m glad she ended up feeling a bit happier at the end.
Friendship: I love a book with friendship and although Coco, Ollie and Brian are an unlikely trio, they go together well and I enjoyed seeing their relationship blossom. They ended up being a great group and they helped each other, trusted one another and came out at the end thanks to one another. Each character completed the group and I loved to see how they got to know one another during their time at Smoke Hollow and while they were running, hiding and trying to escape. I love that they stay friends at the end as well and I’m excited for more adventures with these three characters.
Scary stories/ghosts/scarecrows: Oooohhh, this was definitely the bit that gave the whole spooky, atmospheric vibe to the story and I loved it! This book has some great elements and one of them is a special book that Ollie acquires and she starts reading, I don’t want to give anything away, but this is such a cool part of the book and it makes it really spooky and almost scary! There are ghosts and scarecrows in this story and I added them as triggers in case it bothers anyone, it doesn’t bother me but this definitely made me think twice about scarecrows and I will stay away from them from now on. I really liked how the whole story came together with all these elements.
Trigger Warnings: the death of a parent (not shown), bullying, grief and sadness, fire, ghosts and scarecrows.
“Coco didn’t cry because she was weak. Coco cried because she felt things.” – Small Spaces
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
This book was very unique and I am so glad that we chose this book for the book club in August. We all loved it right from the start which is something that makes me really happy, we had so much fun discussing it as well and we had some wild theories, some of which were spot on!
This book had good pacing, I loved the atmosphere, the writing style was really fluid and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Overall, the book was really well written and well-executed, even though things weren’t explained in the clearest of ways and it was maybe a bit vague at times, I liked how it left the reader the time to think things over and come to conclusions. The characters bugged me a little and I’m not sure what I think about them, I loved their friendship but each individual character could have benefitted from a bit more detail. I do like them all, it’s just a few little things that I would have liked differently I think.
Overall, I loved this book, it was a great middle grade horror and I am very excited to read the next one. I gave it 4 stars, you can find my ASPECTS rating breakdown below. I definitely recommend this book to middle grade lovers, but also horror lovers, it’s not super scary, it’s more on the spooky and atmospheric side but I think that you can definitely appreciate it for what it is even if you like scarier horror. I will be continuing this series and I hope you will give it a try as well!
“You might get to know characters in books, Ollie thought, but getting to know a human was an entirely different thing.” – Small Spaces
That’s all for now, I hope you liked this review, see you soon, stay safe,
Atmosphere – 7
Start – 6
Pacing – 6.5
Ending – 7
Characters – 6
Theme – 8
Style – 7.5
Total = 48
If you would like to purchase this book, you can find it here: Amazon UK (affiliate link) – Amazon FR (affiliate link) – AbeBooks (affiliate link) – The Book Depository (affiliate link) – Audible FR (affiliate link) – Amazon US – Waterstones – Barnes and Noble – Audible UK – Scrib’d – Kobo