Hello fellow book lovers!
Today I have a book for you that you absolutely HAVE to read, and it’s Small Spaces by Katherine Arden – you may know that name from her super famous novel The Bear and the Nightingale (that I’m still in the midst of reading).
The Middle Grade Marvels and I have been reading Small Spaces as our book of the month of August, and this was the first time I just couldn’t stick to our reading schedule! After the second section I just grabbed the book and finished in the course of a few short hours, because I have no self-restraint when it comes to good books – and that’s what Small Spaces is – a really, really good book!
What’s the book about?
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.
If you know me a little bit, you will know that I usually don’t like creepy stuff. And now look at that cover, is that not a picture of nightmares? (But in a good way, if that makes sense.) Well, I didn’t think I’d enjoy this book as much as I did, but that’s the beauty of books and branching out of your usual genres: Sometimes you will be surprised!
Ollie is a girl who prefers to keep to herself. Since her mother’s death, she’s been feeling more lonely than ever before, and a broken digital wristwatch (together with her memories) is all she has left of her. Then, one day, Ollie comes across a weird acting woman who wants to throw a book into a river. Ollie saves it and starts reading – a spooky tale of disapperances and the so called “smiling man” – an evil creature that will grant you your heart’s deepest wish – for something in return. Ollie is totally hooked by the story (as was I by the sequences of the tale in the book), until in class the next day, the teacher tells them of the farm they are about to visit – and its own haunting tale. Can it be true, can this farm be the farm of the book Ollie’s found?
Fast forward to the bus ride. Their usual bus driver has been replaced, and Ollie seems to be the only one to notice that something is really not ok with their replacement. Why is the bus driver watching her so weirdly? On the farm, Ollie recognises the farm’s owner as the lady from the river – and the previous owner of her book. What is going on here? Well, let me tell you, these coincidences seem a bit … too coincidental. And Ollie agrees. When she wanders off on her own, she comes across a little graveyard at the back of the farm. Spooky factor: 100! Which was added to when the creepy bus driver appeared and scared her (and me).
I’m kind of telling you little bits of the plot, aren’t I? I’m sorry, but I just can’t help myself. This book is sooo good! Right when all the children are back on the bus and the class drives back home, the bus gets stuck in the middle of the deep, dark forest. And this is the exact point where I couldn’t stop anymore, and I threw our book club schedule to the wind and just raced through the rest (I’m sorry).
Now, normally, it would probably be the absolute worst idea for a few kids to get out of the bus in the middle of a dark forest when their teacher has left them (to get help), but this is the only way for Ollie, Coco (a little girl who’s a tiny bit annoying but is mostly very sweet and only looking for a friend) and their new friend Brian to get away from something very creepy and outrun a spell that will be put on the rest of the children. But instead of trying to find a way home, Ollie and co try to find a way to rescue the others. They are not always brave, and don’t always get along very well,but they make it work, and soon learn that they can depend on each other.
To be honest, I’m still not sure if I really like Ollie or not. I loved seing her take action and wanting to rescue people, but at some points she wasn’t thinking very kindly about the other children (especially Coco), and that I didn’t like very much. However, she has lost her mother to a tragic accident, and she is still a child. So even though I wasn’t always happy with how she acted, I still loved reading about her and her journey. Maybe her tiny ‘character flaws,’ if you can call them that, made her a bit more real even?
However, what I can say for sure is that I loved seing Ollie, Brian and Coco work together and become friends through their hardships. As they made their way through the dark forest, they came across creepy scarecrows (they really are scary – to whoever chose that name, well done!), friendly but not any less scary ghosts, and in the end, somebody they were not expecting to see in the middle of a maze. I’d like to say ‘and neither did I,’ but I did expect that person a little bit. BUT, it was still very well executed, and did not take away from my reading joy at all! I’m not going to elaborate here because I don’t want to spoiler, but you might see what I mean when you pick this book up yourself (which I really hope you do, because it’s sooo good and just perfect for autumn!!).
So, if you are still looking for a spooky Halloween read, this is the perfect choice! If you’re put off because this is a middle grade book – well, don’t be. This is going to make your spine tingle and… well… you will never look at a field with scarecrows the same way ever again!
5 bone-chilling stars from me!
P.S. Immediately after finishing this book (and confessing to my book club that I had messed up) I ordered Dead Voices, the second part in this series, and I can’t wait to get to it! That’s how good it was!