Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

36959639Title: Small Spaces
Series: Small Spaces #1
Author: Katherine Arden
Source/Format: Borrowed from the library; Hardcover
More Details: Fantasy; Middle Grade
Publisher/Publication Date: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers; September 25, 2018

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic... 
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...."

I read Arden’s Winternight trilogy and was interested to see if her middle-grade novel was just as good. So, the first book I read in 2019 was Small Spaces. It was an excellent choice. While the beginning was a little shaky, once I reached the middle point of the book, the plot picked up and the creepy and mysterious aspects of the story kicked in. What followed was an excellent story about bargains, the price that must be paid, a field trip gone wrong, and scarecrows set against the backdrop of a seemingly ordinary town with some sinister ghosts in its past.

Between the mystery surrounding the book within the book as well as the truth behind the enigmatic Smiling Man, there was a lot to like about Small Spaces. One such thing was the fantastical elements of the story, especially how it tied into the plot by taking ordinary places and dressing them up with ghosts, scarecrows, and mist. And you know what? It worked to the stories advantage by providing some genuinely creepy moments.

The narrator, Olivia (Ollie) Adler, initially came off as very abrasive. She was angry over a personal loss and somewhat impulsive. She hurt others, stole a book that wasn’t hers to take, but she was still caring and felt—somewhat—guilty over her actions. Once Ollie started reading the book and more about Beth’s life was revealed, I was immediately became interested. During the first half of the book, I almost wished the actual story was from Beth’s perspective, because Arden was able to craft an intricate and eerie story about what happens to those who cut deals with the Smiling Man in such a small amount of words. And oh, it was excellent. However, as the story progressed, I was more appreciative of Ollie’s perspective and the connections she formed with the other characters.

Overall, Small Spaces was good. If you’re looking for a quick read with small towns and ghosts, then I recommend giving this one a try....

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