SMALL SPACES, by Katherine Arden
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
In SMALL SPACES, Ollie is a 6th grader whose mother died last year. Despite a strong, loving relationship with her father, Ollie is left reeling and angry after her mother’s death and often acts on her frustrations. She pacifies herself by pulling away from her father, friends, and teachers, preferring to escape into the pages of her books. One afternoon, Ollie grabs a book from a frenzied woman who is about to destroy it by tossing it into the creek. As Ollie begins reading the book, she finds herself stumbling into a ghostly world of disorienting mists and cryptic warnings. The next day, when the school bus breaks down along an isolated, foggy road after a field trip, Ollie’s reality and her book’s story inexplicably intertwine, leading Ollie to realize that this book is not simply a fictional legend. As darkness descends, Ollie and her two friends must take on eerie scarecrows and the cunning smiling man as they attempt to save themselves and their classmates from a terrifying fate. Guided by her mother's compass watch, Ollie learns that her mother’s love lives on and guides her even after the tragedy of death. SMALL SPACES (G.P. Putnam Sons, 2018) is a middle grade novel for children ages 10-12. This spooky adventure will keep youngsters turning the page long after they should have turned out the light.
Katherine Arden explores the complexity of losing a loved one from the child’s perspective while also depicting how others react to the fallout of the main character’s struggles. Throughout the story, Arden deftly portrays the array of emotions the main character experiences after a tragedy. Through Ollie’s two friends, Arden highlights the ability of young people to demonstrate patience, kindness and understanding even the wake of another’s difficult behavior. Written in third person, SMALL SPACES is a strong example of an adventurous, darkly atmospheric middle grade tale that does not shy away from revving up the eerie factor. To learn more about Katherine Arden’s work, visit her website at www.katherinearden.com.
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