Thanks to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books For Young Readers, for providing an eBook in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: Available Now
Synopsis: 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 books 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 captivating 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 bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver 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 heads out into the woods—-bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them—-the bus driver has 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 loved Katherine Arden’s YA/Adult Winternight Trilogy, but somehow I missed her middle-grade debut last year. I’m so glad I stumbled across Small Spaces on NetGalley, because it’s just as good as her fiction for older readers.
Both upper elementary-school age readers and adults will fall in love with Ollie, a young girl who a year after her mom’s death, is still trying to come to terms with it, mainly with the support of her dad and by escaping into books. Even though she’s withdrawn into herself, it’s obvious from the beginning that she’s a natural born leader. Brian and Coco, are also relatable, with Brian developing into so much more than the stereotypical bullying jock, and Coco displaying her own hidden strength under her outwardly fragile physical appearance. They wind up making quite the formidable team by the end of the book.
The story itself a wonderful blend of horror, Greek mythology, and coming-of-age. Although only 218 pages, it surprisingly manages to pack in quite a bit of material. It’s quick moving and I finished it in a bit over an hour. The ending was satisfying but it’s most likely this is going to be at the very least, a trilogy. The second book, Dead Voices, is coming out on August 27th, so lovers of horror and mythology have plenty of time to catch up!