Title: Small Spaces
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Small Spaces #1
Published: GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (September 25, 2018)
Pages: 218 (Hardcover)
Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy is one of my favorite series of all time. So when I heard she was writing a Middle Grade series, I knew I was going to have to read it. And, I’m so glad I did. This was utterly delightful.
“Avoid large places. Keep to small.”
Our story follows an 11 year old bookworm named Ollie. Ollie loves books so much that when she sees a woman about to throw a book in the water, she runs up and steals it to keep it safe. Intrigued by why anyone would want to throw a book away, Ollie stays up late reading (#relatable) the story about a woman, the two brothers who loved her, and the “smiling man” who makes deals that may not be worth the cost you have to pay.
The next day, Ollie takes a field trip to a local farm, Smoke Hollow, and discovers that this farm may have a connection to the story she’s been reading. On the way back to school, the bus breaks down and the teacher leaves to get help. The bus driver then warns the students that they better hide, because “they’ll” come for them at night. Only Ollie and two of her classmates leave the bus after that ominous warning and head into the woods.
And that’s when the story takes a turn for the creepy.
“You can’t, she decided, be super scared for very long before you start just laughing or crying.”
This is such a alluringly eerie story; there are sinister looking scarecrows, ghosts, and haunted houses. The story is so engaging that I read it in one sitting. But it’s so much more than a ghost story. It’s a story about loss and grief, and wondering how you can still find happiness and peace in a world without someone who was so integral to both. And its about friendship and family, and the importance of letting people in.
“You might get to know characters in books, Ollie thought, but getting to know a human was an entirely different thing.”
There is a definite focus of grief and depression in this story, and Ollie is dealing with both after loosing someone she loved. And I think this was handled so beautifully and delicately. I loved way Arden explored loss as Ollie learns that those we love never really leave us. And that its okay to keep on living even though we miss them.
Ollie begins the book as a sort of loner, after suffering a tragic loss, she’s closed herself off to the people around her only finding an escape in reading. But, throughout the story she begins to open up again and make friendships – realizing that you shouldn’t be making snap judgments about people, especially based on stereotypes. And that people can surprise you if you let them. I love themes of friendships in middle grade books, and I can’t wait to see more of this trio in the rest of the series.
“How is she the clumsiest person ever on the ground, yet a squirrel when she’s climbing?” muttered Ollie.
Brian grinned. “You’re kind of grumpy most of the time, but when things get bad, you’re the bravest. People can surprise you, Ollie-pop.”
I loved the dichotomy between the heartfelt themes of this story and the creepy plot/setting. I think it was a fantastic way to discuss some really important topics (like loss, grief, depression, bullying, friendship, etc.) in a way that would appeal to middle grade readers. But, this is absolutely a story that adults would love too.
If you are looking for the perfect autumnal middle grade read, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Trigger Warnings: loss of a loved one, depictions of depression and grief