One Sentence Synopsis
After the tragic death of her mother, Ollie Adler finds herself engrossed in a creepy book about Beth and the smiling man, which may hold more truth than Ollie realizes.
“Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.”
As y’all may know, I’ve been a lover of horror books for awhile. Though fantasy will forever and always be my top genre, there’s just something about a frightening tale that I love. That being said, I tend to stick to adult horror novels. Why, you ask? Mostly because those are the ones I see marketed! But I’ve recently begun to dip my toes into YA horror and, most recently, middle grade horror. I had heard about Small Spaces from various sources and was curious about how I would get on with a horror novel geared towards a middle grade audience. Then the book was picked for the Middle Grade Marvels group book in August and I knew it was time!
In this novel, we’re following a young girl names Ollie Adler. Ollie is smart and brave, but also reeling from a recent tragedy. She’s closed herself off from people at school and even a little bit from her loving father. But one thing she does still enjoy is reading. That’s why, when she finds a woman about to toss an old book into a river, she quickly saves it from a watery demise. When she starts to read it, she’s immediately pulled in by the creepy and bizarre tale. But when her class goes on a field trip to a local farm, she can’t help but notice some eerie similarities. Then, on the way home, the bus breaks down and things take a turn for the spooky…
Y’all, this book was a creepy delight! I haven’t had that much fun being freaked out in quite a long time. The tone is expertly set and matches the fall theme so well, it felt like October when I was reading it at the height of summer! I think my favorite aspect of the book was the foreboding atmosphere that is built throughout the tale. It ramps up as you go, the tension building and building, until you find yourself on the edge of your seat. I think the author did a good job of making this frightening, but not overly so for the intended audience.
But, also, I may never look at a scarecrow the same way again…
I also think Katherine Arden did an amazing job developing her characters. I just wanted to hug Ollie so many times throughout this book. The depiction of grief will tug at your heart-strings. I loved the characterization of Coco and Brian, the other two main characters in this story, as well. Coco has a quiet strength to her that I absolutely adored. Brian is just so dang likeable and I love how he interacts with both Ollie and Coco. Together, they are a trio of complex, layered characters and it was a joy getting to know them in this short book.
I will say that I’m glad that this is just the first book in a series because I felt like I didn’t get enough! I wanted more as soon as the book was done, which is why I immediately bought the next book in the series, Dead Voices. I can’t wait to continue on with Ollie, Coco, and Brian!
Final thoughts: Don’t sleep on this middle grade horror! This is a creepy, dark, and intense book that will have you on the edge of your seat. The characters are compelling, the setting is wonderfully ominous, and the scares will sneak up on you! If you or your kid are looking for a book to read to get in the mood for Halloween, if you’re looking for something that has heart and jump scares, then I think you would love Small Spaces.