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Small Spaces

Review

Small Spaces

Twelve-year-old Olivia Adler is done with being nice. She's done with people trying to call her Olivia ---she’s Ollie. Only her mother called her Olivia. And she’s definitely done with sympathy face. For the girl who lost her mother in a tragic accident, adults only seem to have one expression: sympathy face. In the wake of her mother’s death, she’s isolated herself from her friends, her hobbies, and even her bread-baking, color-loving dad. Ollie spends most of her time riding her bike around her small Vermont town and finding secluded places to read, losing herself in stories to forget the pain she’s in. That is, until she comes across a book that will change everything she thinks she knows about her town.

"SMALL SPACES is a gripping read, a good old-fashioned ghost story….Arden brilliantly captures the psyche of a young girl struggling to accept the loss of her mother."

 

Ollie steals the book from Ms. Webster, a local farmer who is about to throw the book into a stream. Ollie rescues it and begins to read the story of a small farm in the nineteenth century whose inhabitants inexplicably disappeared. Ollie reads about a love triangle, betrayal and a terrible bargain with the sinister “smiling man” to resurrect a dead loved one. When the smiling man comes to collect, disaster strikes. Before she can finish the book, Ollie is interrupted by a school field trip to Ms. Webster’s farm, which seems eerily familiar. When she finds a graveyard with headstones matching the names of the characters in her book, Ollie knows something strange is afoot --- not to mention the strangely menacing scarecrows that fill the cornfields and seem to move on their own. With the help of her friends, Ollie must discover the old farm’s secrets and set free the souls that have been trapped there for generations.

SMALL SPACES is a gripping read, a good old-fashioned ghost story complete with an autumnal New England setting, pumpkins, scarecrows and the haunted past of an old town. Ollie is a thoroughly lovable character; although she puts on a tough face and doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, especially sixth-grade boys, Ollie is inwardly a young girl struggling to accept the loss of her mother. Author Katherine Arden introduces the fact of Ollie’s mother’s death slowly, establishing Ollie’s prickly demeanor and gradually revealing her internal anguish. As with any good ghost story, Arden also takes her time revealing the details of the haunted farm, dropping hints but never falling into the trap of exposition. “Keep to small,” Ollie is told by a creepy farm worker, and this proves to be invaluable advice, saving Ollie’s and her friends’ lives multiple times.

Arden brilliantly captures the psyche of a young girl struggling to accept the loss of her mother. We enter Ollie’s mourning with her, experiencing her moments of happiness that are shattered by memories of her mother and feeling her intense isolation. What could possibly matter more in Ollie’s life than the fact that her mother is gone? The answer, it seems, lies in the disturbing past of an old farm. It takes a strange encounter with the border between this world and the next --- and the kind of limbo Ollie and her friends find themselves in --- to help Ollie emerge from her grief and once again embrace her life.

Reviewed by Rebecca Hawkins on October 25, 2018

Small Spaces
by Katherine Arden

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2018
  • Genres: Children's 10+, Fiction, Horror
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 052551502X
  • ISBN-13: 9780525515029