Small Spaces

Small Spaces

Bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classicAfter 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, stealin...

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Title:Small Spaces
Author:Katherine Arden
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Small Spaces Reviews

  • Melanie

    is Katherine Arden’s debut middle grade novel and I loved it so very much friends. Many of you know that

    is one of my favorite books of all-time, and even though these stories are nothing like one another, the beautiful writing, amazi

    is Katherine Arden’s debut middle grade novel and I loved it so very much friends. Many of you know that

    is one of my favorite books of all-time, and even though these stories are nothing like one another, the beautiful writing, amazing characters, and important themes shine through. I went into this expecting a fun and spooky read (which it was), but what I also got was such a beautiful love letter to grief, depression, and trying to live in a world that has taken away someone who you feel you cannot live without.

    In a small town in Vermont, our main character is riding her bike home from school one fall afternoon, when she notices a woman attempting to throw an old book in the water. Ollie, being the book lover that she is, feels obliged to stop and see what’s going on.

    - But she mostly goes by Ollie. A twelve-year-old, sixth grader, who loves to read and is trying to live her life while grieving a terrible loss. And the only way she truly knows how to cope is the escapism of books. (Also, there is a brief mention of her mom having brown skin, but I am not 100% sure of Ollie’s race.)

    - The tiniest child in Ollie’s class. She has a somewhat famous mother and has recently moved to the school. But her innocence and eccentricities constantly make her a target for bullying.

    - Jamaican and your typical middle school jock, who Ollie has known her entire life. And Ollie learns very quickly that you should not stereotype people, because they might surprise you.

    And their paths truly cross unexpectedly once Olivia begins to read the book that was almost abandoned. She learns of a farm, and a girl, and two brothers, and a missing persons case that was never solved. And now Ollie and her friends are going on a field trip to a farm that is very reminiscent of the story she has been reading about.

    And yes, friends, this is a spooky book. I mean, it’s nothing too scary or too much, but Katherine Arden for sure paints an eerie atmosphere and some extremely creepy monster like characters. And I truly think this will make the perfect Halloween read this year, for so many ages, but this book was also so much more than that.

    This is a book about healing and friendship and learning to let go while simultaneously never letting go. This book is about escapism through books and how books carry some of the most powerful healing magic imaginable. And this is a book about healing at your own pace and in your own time.

    Ollie is really dealing with some very serious depression and grief throughout this book. Like how we give up things that make us happy, just because those things remind you of the person who made you happiest. How sometimes the world feels too heavy, too loud, too empty, all because it’s missing someone who was your entire world. Yet, this is also a love letter to how the ones we lose will never truly be lost; they will always remain with us. Always.

    Overall, I loved this book more than words. I wasn’t expecting it to make me feel everything that it did, and when I closed the book it truly felt like a cathartic experience. I recommend this book to any and every person, but especially during the autumnal season. I read this in a single sitting, I never once wanted to put it down, and I fell so deeply in love with it.

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    for minor bullying, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, and depression depiction.

  • kath | novelandfolk

    It is a confirmed fact that I will read anything Katherine Arden writes.

    To be honest, I haven’t read a middle grade horror since I was squished into a school bus seat with a tattered copy of Goosebumps in my backpack. It isn’t a genre I had considered revisiting, not for any particular reason other than moving on to other things. However, when I found out that the author of my favourite trilogy was debuting a middle grade novel, of course I had to give it a try.

    In Small Spaces, Arden really show

    It is a confirmed fact that I will read anything Katherine Arden writes.

    
To be honest, I haven’t read a middle grade horror since I was squished into a school bus seat with a tattered copy of Goosebumps in my backpack. It isn’t a genre I had considered revisiting, not for any particular reason other than moving on to other things. However, when I found out that the author of my favourite trilogy was debuting a middle grade novel, of course I had to give it a try.

    In Small Spaces, Arden really shows her versatility as an author after giving us the Winternight trilogy. Rather than medieval Russian fairytale settings, frost demons or magic horses, we have preteens, cellphones, and field trips to haunted farms. There are almost no similarities between her works other than just plain good storytelling, and it is really really good. The pages all but turned by themselves in this delightfully spooky tale of eerie scarecrows and a busload of middle grade kids. I devoured the whole thing in one sitting.

    
I went into it expecting a scary read (but not TOO scary as to traumatize the kids) and on that account it delivered! I think it will make a bigger impact on its intended age level but can definitely be enjoyed by children and adults alike. But more than just a spooky book, it is about the aftermath of childhood trauma and the grief that takes hold, and about friendship. How Ollie goes from aloof and friendless to gradually accepting her vulnerability and need for her classmates gave me so many feels.

    
I am now solidly of the opinion that middle grade horror needs a comeback, especially if Katherine Arden is writing them.

    ~ 4.75 stars

  • Betsy

    In fourth grade I sold my soul to the Scholastic Book Club’s Apple paperbacks. There was only one thing in the entire world I ever wanted to read, at that point. Only one thing that could make my little heart go pitter-pat, and that was the comforting presence of ghost stories. This was long before Bob Stine decided to slap an “R.L.” in front of his last name and stake a claim in the world of G-rated horror fare. But it was also long

    John Bellairs made it his business to truck in the middl

    In fourth grade I sold my soul to the Scholastic Book Club’s Apple paperbacks. There was only one thing in the entire world I ever wanted to read, at that point. Only one thing that could make my little heart go pitter-pat, and that was the comforting presence of ghost stories. This was long before Bob Stine decided to slap an “R.L.” in front of his last name and stake a claim in the world of G-rated horror fare. But it was also long

    John Bellairs made it his business to truck in the middle grade supernatural. The Apple paperbacks had titles like

    , and

    , and

    . They were written by folks like Betty Ren Wright and Willo Davis Roberts and Mary Down Hahn, and I loved them dearly. I wanted to be scared, but in the safest way imaginable. I remember distinctly picking up some rando Alfred Hitchcock story collection for kids and reading the warning that it would be the scariest thing I ever encountered, only to return it to the library without going any further.

    worked for me, if only because the stories themselves were just lame urban legends, while the art by Stephen Gammell was synthesized, purified nightmare fuel, perfect for sleepovers. All this is to say that I like to think I know my way around a scary book for the 9-12 year old set. It’s been a long time since I’ve found something that really made me nostalgic for those days of yore. Then I read a book that’s going to be absolutely perfect for those kids that loved

    and want something in the children’s room of the library that feels like that. Are you afraid of scarecrows? No? Well bad news, bucko. You’re about to be.

    We all deal with trauma in different ways. When you lose someone close to you, you find a way of dealing with the pain. For Ollie, books have always been her escape. After her mom’s death, Ollie has consistently lost herself in novels of every stripe, shutting out the world around her. Maybe that’s why she did it. Maybe that’s why she stole that woman’s book. It wasn’t anything she intended to do, of course, but one day, after school, Ollie encountered an odd woman on the cusp of chucking an old book into the river. Possessed by a sense of urgency, Ollie gets the book away from the woman, but not before she is handed a bit of advice. Avoid large spaces. Stick to small. Delving into the book later that night, Ollie discovers it to be the tale of a family wrenched apart by someone only known as “The Smiling Man” and the promises he makes. When Ollie is dragged onto a school trip to a local farm, she doesn’t connect the story with the world around her. Not until she starts noticing the scarecrows. Not until the school bus breaks down in the mist. And not until the scarecrows start noticing her too.

    Allow me to pause for a moment and offer an ode to a grand first page. A truly good first page of a children’s novel is a thing of beauty. It’s not that anything has to happen, necessarily. It's just that if the author is talented enough then they will actually be able to convey, in roughly half a page, right from the start, whether or not they’re the kind of writer you want to dedicate several hours of your life to. Now consider the first page of

    . There are ten sentences there and within those ten there are already three or four that I adore. The first reads, “Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light and wishing she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine.” Aside from being a pretty effective method of conveying a lot of information about a character without being too obvious about it, it’s also an interesting case of foreshadowing. Later in the novel there will be darker moments of craving the October sunshine and of staring through window panes both wanting, and not wanting, to be on the other side. The other sentences read “Mike Campbell got the shivers from squeaking blackboards and, for some reason, from people licking paper napkins. The sixth grade licked napkins around him as much as possible.” No real foreshadowing in that one, and Mike’s not even that important a character. I just love how it’s written.

    That keen authorial bent with a pen doesn’t just stop on that first page either. Arden's descriptions can often be delicious. “Her eyes looked – stretched – the way a dog looks, hiding under the bed during a thunderstorm.” Or, “The parking lot was full of puddles and the bus squatted in the middle of it like a prehistoric swamp monster.” Extra points are also allotted for including in the book quotes from

    that aren’t the usual suspects. Kids aren’t going to walk away from this book talking it up and lending it to their friends because of the similes or the Lewis Carroll shout-outs, though. They’re going to hand it around because Arden has mastered the art of rising tension that delivers. A good horror novel for kids shouldn’t just feel increasingly creepy. There has to be something truly terrible at its core that is going to get you and do something unspeakable to you. If the threat isn’t real, the tension isn’t going to work. But don’t worry. In this book the threat is real, the bad guy is terrifying, and the tension . . . well, let’s just say you could cut it with a knife hanging off of a smiling scarecrow’s arm.

    Now you can’t just write a book about a girl going on a creepy school trip. It’s a good thing to mention in the elevator pitch for the book, but there’s gotta be a little more meat on the bones (so to speak). Ollie’s mother is dead so right there that’s good. Dead moms are infinitely good fodder for a storytelling, particularly if the kid isn’t handling it particularly well. If you sit down and consider how odd it is that a remarkably traumatic night is what it takes to help the main character work through her grief, it is a little odd. But hey! That’s what storytelling is all about. Each of the three main kid characters is a fully rendered human being too. Ollie is (Arden is adept at making sure that tragedy does not equate personality) and so too are Coco and Brian. Coco in particular is a character I’ve never encountered in a children’s book before. Sweet, small, probably rich, and a perpetual victim. There’s a lovely moment late in the book when Ollie zeroes in on what makes Coco tick. “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.” Look at the beautiful repetition of those same words, over and over, repeated in different ways in those sentences. It’s still remarkable to me, after all these years, that you can take so few words in a children’s book, rearrange them slightly, and say something profound about a character’s very make-up.

    The very first moment Ollie is told the titular advice to “Avoid large places at night” and “Keep to small” a memory twitched at the back of my brain. I’d heard that advice before. Where? Ah yes. “The Boy Who Drew Cats”. It’s a Japanese folktale, easily found in (amongst other things)

    , edited by Chris Duffy. In that story, when a boy leaves the safety of a monastery he is given the advice, “Avoid large places, stick to small.” It’s not a particularly well-known story here in the States and I thought it a clever adaptation to this particular book. Arden makes no mention of the tale in her Acknowledgments so I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or not. Let’s just say it’s good advice, regardless of where it comes from.

    Living as we do in a post-Goosebumps world, it’s still funny to me that people haven’t taken more advantage of children’s endless appetites for horror. You’ll occasionally get a television show like

    but it’s exceedingly rare. Fortunately middle grade novels never stopped producing creepy fare. Mary Downing Hahn is still alive, kicking, and churning out deathly fare. Mr. R.L. Stine still rules the roost. And with new authors like Katherine Arden picking up the mantle (picking up, heck –

    the mantle!) I’m confident these books aren’t going anywhere. At one point in this book Seth, the farm hand, says to Ollie, “Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.” You can take that as a threat if you like, but I take it as a promise.

    For ages 10-12.

  • Joey Rambles

    About three things I was absolutely positive:

    First, this is one of the scariest MG novels I've ever read.

    Second, there is a possibility that this book might not get the same attention as something like

    , which is a shame, because while I liked that novel, this one is an absolute gem and deserves to be treated as such.

    And third,

    I was right.

    I sincerely hope she continues writing for a very long ti

    About three things I was absolutely positive:

    First, this is one of the scariest MG novels I've ever read.

    Second, there is a possibility that this book might not get the same attention as something like

    , which is a shame, because while I liked that novel, this one is an absolute gem and deserves to be treated as such.

    And third,

    I was right.

    I sincerely hope she continues writing for a very long time because this one was just

    It's just so creepy and frightening and smart and

    This is the book all succeeding spooky MG novels have to live up to.

    Still, the jump from adult fantasy to MG horror is quite a strange one for her to make, but guess what? It really,

    works. Katherine Arden is a master at vividly painting a scene, which only raises the eerie factor of this story even higher.

    those scarecrows scared me. Can we go back to the scarecrows that sing and dance, please?

    As always, Arden's characters are the best part. Ollie is a terrific protagonist. She's a quiet bookworm but she isn't timid. She's feisty and assertive and brave enough to go after what she wants. She reminds me of another feisty little girl who's also the protagonist of a creepy MG novel. (I think her name was

    )

    The other characters are great too, and their relationships with Ollie are fun and well-developed. I really loved the dad in this one, as well as the two best friends. Friendships in MG novels are always the greatest.

    Look, I don't know what else to say in order to convince you to read this. It's almost Halloween, anyway, and you need an eerie read for the month.

    Don't miss out on it just because it's MG. Or if you know a kid that's into the creeps, buy them this book - they're going to

    it.

    In the meantime, I think I'll go rewatch

    Just so scarecrows can stop feeling so creepy.

  • rachel 🌻

    I don’t think I have ever been recommended an adult fantasy as much as Arden’s

    but in typical Rachel fashion, I jumped on her newest book instead.

    reminded me why I adore middle grade to this day. It had everything I loved to see: a heartfelt friendship, palpable atmosphere, a twisty, turny plotline, and characters who I came to adore with every fibre of my being.

    🎃 Ollie, our protagonist, is such a Gryffindor. She is slowly working through her grief and d

    I don’t think I have ever been recommended an adult fantasy as much as Arden’s

    but in typical Rachel fashion, I jumped on her newest book instead.

    reminded me why I adore middle grade to this day. It had everything I loved to see: a heartfelt friendship, palpable atmosphere, a twisty, turny plotline, and characters who I came to adore with every fibre of my being.

    🎃 Ollie, our protagonist, is such a Gryffindor. She is slowly working through her grief and depression and the way that Arden tackled these themes without belittling the target audience was admirable.

    🎃 Coco has just moved from the city and is the brunt of her classmates’ jokes more often than not. Despite the fact that she is almost constantly in tears, she helps Ollie realise that it is better to be in touch with your feelings than pretending they don’t exist.

    🎃 Brian, the nerdy jock w/ a heart of gold. His relationship with the girl warmed my cold, dead heart. There’s nothing I love more than unlikely friendships.

    I may also be completely in love with Ollie’s father. His dad jokes had me cry-laughing like a goddamn emoji.

    Atmosphere is so essential to a good horror story and Small Spaces didn’t disappoint. It was chilling. Who knew scarecrows could be so sinister? I will admit, yes, it was a little predictable. But the fact that I read this in a single afternoon, unable to put it down, speaks for itself. It had an undeniably addictive quality.

    Overall? If you are looking for a Halloween read this month, this is not to skip! I highly recommended it. Even if middle grade is not your go-to age range, I promise Small Spaces has something for everyone.

    🍂

    : Ollie (mc) has grief-related depression; Brian (sc) is Jamaican

    🌻

    for grief/loss, bullying, death of a mother and fire. Recounted murder, disappearance of a loved one, plane crash, death of a child, and physical assault. Mentions suicide.

  • ✨Brithanie Faith✨

    ❇As I've said already- this definitely reminded me of Goosebumps, or Are You Afraid Of The Dark? If you've never read a Goosebumps book, or watched either of these t.v. shows you probably won't know what I'm talking about, but I felt myself being brought back to a simpler time when the only "horror" I knew was the family friendly kind! I was completely invested in this

    ❇️As I've said already- this definitely reminded me of Goosebumps, or Are You Afraid Of The Dark? If you've never read a Goosebumps book, or watched either of these t.v. shows you probably won't know what I'm talking about, but I felt myself being brought back to a simpler time when the only "horror" I knew was the family friendly kind! I was completely invested in this story, and I enjoyed getting to know more about all of the characters!

    ❇️I'm not gonna lie- I do feel as though the ending of this was rushed! There was this feeling as I was reading the final 3 or 4 chapters where I didn't understand how things could be wrapped up so quickly! I don't dislike the ending, but there could have been more! Things could have been explained better (in my opinion)!

    ❇️This was my first experience with this authors work, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from her in the future!

  • Katerina Kondrenko

    Very nice middle-grade story! I loved the writing (Arden knows how to make the words flow), creepy atmosphere, and the pacing. Oh, and the friendship too! Bromance development between the main characters was really great!

  • Hannah

    I would read Katherine Arden's shopping list if she published it.

  • Em (RunawayWithDreamthieves)

    can you imagine being a stack of dead tree and having this much power??

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