Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1) by Katherine Arden

Title: Small Spaces
Series: Small Spaces #1
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 25th 2018
Genre: Middle Grade Horror
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.

I love creepy books, so when I came across Small Spaces by Katherine Arden, it immediately caught my attention. I don't normally read middle grade fiction, but I do make an exception for middle grade horror, and I'm really glad I had the chance to read Small Spaces.

Olivia, or Ollie as she prefers, is in middle school. She loves reading and books, so when she comes across a sobbing lady getting ready to throw a book in a river, she steals it before the woman has a chance to do so. Ollie thinks the book she stole is just a creepy ghost story, but she soon realizes it is anything but fiction! When her class goes on a field trip to a farm, Ollie realizes just how true the book is. When the field trip bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Ollie and two friends decided to leave the bus fearing that they may be in even worse danger if they stay on the bus. With the help of her broken watch from her deceased mother, Ollie must be very careful if she wants to return home unscathed.

I did enjoy the plot of Small Spaces. I felt like I was reading a R.L. Stine novel! Katherine Arden did such a fantastic job with this story in keeping it interesting. There were a few times were the story felt a little disjointed with what was going on as it sometimes seemed as if Small Spaces wanted to be more of a ghost story other than what it actually was. However, it was still a great plot! There was one plot twist I didn't see coming which I thought was great considering I'm an adult, and this is a middle grade story. Usually I can figure out the plot twists, but not this time! One thing that got me wondering is how all these 11 and 12 year old kids each had their own cell phone. I know it's not impossible for a whole class of junior high children to have a cell phone, but it just seems improbable. While most of my questions were answered, I was left pondering over the ending as to why more questions weren't asked by the police or the parents. Another question I had, I won't go into detail because of spoilers, but it pertained to the kids and the water. I'll just leave it at that. Although Small Spaces is a series, it can be read as a standalone as there is no cliff hanger ending.

The pacing for Small Spaces starts out a bit slow, but it picks up quickly to a fantastic pace a few chapters in. It stays at a decent pace for the majority of the book until it slows a little bit towards the ending. I wouldn't say the pacing lets the book down in any way though.

I felt all the characters in Small Spaces were written very well especially as the main characters were written as middle schoolers. I felt every character was solid. I didn't really care for Ollie's personality though. For the first half of the book, especially, she came across as a bully. As this book is aimed towards kids that are impressionable, it kind of irked me that the main character was a little mean to others. I liked Brian. I thought he seemed like he'd be a great kid in real life. I admire how he wasn't ashamed to show his emotions at certain times. My favorite character was Coco. Coco had just moved from the city to Ollie's middle school. She seemed really vulnerable, yet Ollie was mean to her a lot of the time. I just wanted to hug and protect Coco. She was such a sweet girl to everyone unlike Ollie. Coco came across as a happy go lucky girl.

Trigger warnings in Small Spaces besides being a scary story include death, minor violence, a minor profanity (one of the characters says hell), ghosts, and bullying.

All in all, Small Spaces is a fantastic scary read despite some minor flaws. It's got such a great spooky plot and characters that feel realistic. I would definitely recommend Small Spaces by Katherine Arden to everyone aged 10+ who love to be spooked! R.L. Stine better watch out; Katherine Arden could give him a run for his money judging by this book! Even though Small Spaces can stand on its own, I will definitely be reading the next book in the Small Spaces series.
(Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an eBook of Small Spaces by Katherine Arden in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.)


  1. I think I would enjoy this just as much as the kids! I was always deep in a R.L. Stine book growing up

    1. If you loved R.L. Stine, you will definitely love this book! I think this may even be better than R.L. Stine, and that is saying something because R.L. Stine is one of my author heroes! =D

  2. I just skimmed your review as I haven't finished reading this yet. So happy you enjoyed it!