Book Review: Small Spaces


Small Spaces

by Katherine Arden

September 25th 2018, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers

Goodreads, Amazon, Book Depository

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. 

After her school bus breaks down the next day, after a field trip to the very same farm that once belonged to Beth, only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the sinister warning given to them all: RUN. 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.” 

Small Spaces is, as I first described it when writing my notes for this review, actually a proper spooky storyIt’s very rare for me to actually be scared during a reading experience, but this one really hit the mark. I feel like Arden taps in to what actually scares kids– for me, a lot of the fear I felt was rooted in how much I hated both the Scarecrows and the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who- and I think she writes the fear these kid’s feel expertly.

Based on my own personal reading experience, I will recommend the audiobook for this. The narrator is amazing and she really captures the voices of the characters as well as making it all really spooky and unnerving, especially descriptions of the scarecrows. Listening to the audiobook made what was already creepy even more unsettling. Audiobooks for middle grade are always amazing for me, the narrators always capture the younger narration style.

The villain, while I predicted who they were, was still a sinister presence, and I really loved how they became quite demonic with deals and bargains at the end, it’s one of my favourite villain tropes! Arden really made the threat against these kids feel real, and I do think the ending is bittersweet in a way, which I appreciate.

There is a great cast of young characters at the heart of this novel. Ollie wasn’t really likeable at the start, but these characters and their different personalities that make them unlikeable in some respects felt very real. I feel like middle grade is perfect for writing young characters who actually come across as kids you would meet in real life, rather than being picture perfect like a lot of young adult characters can come across. There are really lovely friendships that build throughout the book based on trust, and these characters really come into their own and their development is so gradual I didn’t even realise how much they had changed until reflecting on them writing this review. Ollie especially comes into herself.

One thing that really stood out to me was the nuanced treatment of grief and family. Rather than the narrative making grief something trivial, it feels natural within the plot and characterisation, rooted into the very essence of Ollie’s character without ever being her defining trait. We see Ollie come to a point where she still misses her mum, but also recognises the things she still has, and that with their help she can be happy and live the life her mum would want her to, which really is important as a message to young people. 

One of my main issues is that I think the bullying could have been addressed more. I feel like in the end, Coco is only treated well because she has more friends, instead of the bullying she suffered being addressed as something quite terrible for a young person. Bullying is rife in schools, so actually facing it directly feels important. I definitely feel like Ollie and Brian both changed their mindsets, but her bullying was by the whole class, maybe the whole grade, and it honestly really upset me to not see her on the receiving end of a good apology.

Overall, Small Spaces was a great audiobook experience and I cannot wait for book two in the series to come out! It’s spooky and unnerving, with nuanced young characters who never feel stereotyped or cliche.

RATING: 🍎🍎🍎🍎

If you liked this review, you might like:

🍎 Review: The Gods of Asgard Trilogy by Rick Riordan

🍎Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

🍎Recommendations: What to Read AND Watch if You Like Witches

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Small Spaces

  1. I’m seeing a lot more middle grade and YA ‘horror’ stories coming out nowadays, which is great! From the sounds of it, you’d enjoy The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart – it is, like Small Spaces, a ‘proper spooky story’!


  2. Pingback: June Wrap Up & July TBR Jar Pick – seasonsofwords

  3. Pingback: Three Horror Reviews: Rosemary’s Baby, The Quiet Boy, Dead Voices – seasonsofwords

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