I never expected a middle grade book to scare me the way Small Spaces did. Katherine Arden, author of The Bear and the Nightingale, has crafted a wonderfully creep scary story that surprised me on each page.
In this book we follow Ollie, a super smart sixth grader, who is struggling with the loss of her mother the year prior. Ollie’s adventure begins when she runs into a crying woman by the creek, this woman has a book and is going to throw it in the water. Ollie ends up stealing the book and going home to read it. The book is an old scary story, but nothing is as it seems when Ollie goes on a field trip to Webster farm and discovers that the books she stole could possibly be related to scarecrow infested farm. On the way home the bus breaks down and she is warned by her terrifying bus driver that there are monsters in the mist and they are coming to get the kids. Ollie sets off with two friends to uncover what’s out there and to save their class.
Small Spaces builds tension in a way that makes you simultaneously afraid to turn the page but excited to. This constant sense of dread propels you forward in this downward spiral of fear. You know the horror is coming yet you keep going and when it fianlly unfolds in front of you a tingle will snake its way down your spine. I never knew that I was afraid of scarecrows until I read this book, the fact that they are around every corner and moving when they’re out of sight really creeped me out. Imagine that the monster trying to get you moved when you aren’t looking and can show up at any second.
The setting in Small Spaces is suffocating, but not in a bad way. You fly through the dark deserted woods and then into cramped farm houses, the book is littered with claustrophobia to really get your heart pumping. The imagery of where you are really shines through, I could see myself standing in the woods or carefully walking across rotten bridges. The story includes you in every step and you never feel like an outsider peeking in.
We are left with very clear descriptions of the horrors that stand before Ollie, one instance that really made me anxious was a description of the bus driver. Arden writes, “This time the driver turned to face her. Ollie got a terrible shock. His eyes had turned white, white as an egg, pupil-less. He might have been blind except he was definitely looking at her. His teeth were perfectly white too, sharp against red lips.” I found this so frightening because the contrast of white against red is so vibrant, and when most people think about bus drivers they don’t think of pupil-less hell demons. Arden takes the mundane everyday people and places and turns them into horrifying mechanisms to push the story onward.
A detail about this story that I enjoyed was Ollie’s watch. Her watch was dead prior to this field trip, only a memento of the past, but beyond the mist of the woods it starts aiding her on her journey to the truth. It tells her where to go and gives her a countdown to nightfall (when the horrors come out to play), and it added to the mystery of the story. The watch gives Ollie’s history depth and makes you want to learn more about her. The twist about the watch is a tad predictable but heart warming none the less.
My only squabble with Small Spaces is that it is a little bit predictable. No one is who they seem but they do stick to common character tropes that litter horror stories. You can mostly see where the books is heading and the ending, while different, still fits the typical scary story model. It resolves too perfectly in my opinion.
I give Small Spaces a 4/5 stars because it is a fantastic middle grade horror story with depth and fear inducing scenes. I knocked off a star for predictability only.
I just want to thank Netgalley for the opportunity to read the free uncorrected copy of this book for my blog.
Be sure to check out Small Spaces by Katherine Arden and keep your eyes peeled for the next book in the series titled Dead Voices expected to release on August 27th, 2019.