Small Spaces (Small Spaces: Book 1) by Katherine Arden

Small Spaces by [Arden, Katherine]

3 Stars

Publisher: Penguin Group, Penguin Young Readers Group, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Date of publication: September 25th, 2018

Genre: Horror, Middle Grade

Series: Small Spaces

Small Spaces—Book 1

Dead Voices—Book 2 (expected publication: August 27th, 2019)

Where you can find Small Spaces: Barnes and Noble | Amazon | BookBub

Book 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 book 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 captivated 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 school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice 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 head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just 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.


First Line:

October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year, slanted red through the sugar maples.

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

My Review:

When I saw that Katherine Arden wrote Small Spaces, I knew I had to read it. I was a massive fan of the Winternight Trilogy, and I had high expectations of Small Spaces. Unfortunately, it fell short for me.

Ollie is an eleven-year-old who suffered a tragic loss. Refusing to talk about what happened, Ollie shut herself from the world. Her only solace was reading. After defending a new student from bullies, Ollie goes to her secret reading area. There she meets a deranged woman about to throw a book in a stream. Stealing the book, Ollie reads a story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and the smiling man. The next day, Ollie takes a field trip to Smoke Hollow, where she notices something strange about the scarecrows. When the bus breaks down on the way home, Ollie’s teacher goes back to the farm to get help. The bus driver warns Ollie and her friends to start running. Then he says, “Avoid large places, keep to small.” After that, her watch, the last physical thing her mother was wearing the day she died, spells out the word “Run.” That’s when the adventure begins. What will happen to Ollie and her friends? Who is the smiling man? How is he connected to what was happening to Ollie? And what exactly does the bus driver mean?

I thought Small Spaces storyline was fantastic. It was creepy enough for upper elementary/middle school-aged children.

I did like the characters, but I felt that there was not a lot of depth to them. Ollie was the loner with a tragic past, Brian was the jock who had a hidden side to him, and Coco was the new girl who was trying too hard to fit in. The author did try to make them more fleshed out. Brian quoting Alice in Wonderland did surprise me. As did Coco revealing that she used to rock climb before she moved to Evansburg. But other than that, I didn’t get a connection with them.

Revealing Ollie’s tragic past sooner would have been an asset to the book. I did guess at what happened early on in the book, but it took forever for it come out. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her.

I did have an issue with the formatting what reading Small Spaces. I would be reading a paragraph, and then random numbers would appear (example: running in the 1. woods). It made it hard for me to read the book and did take away from my enjoyment of it. It also affected my rating.

I also thought that paranormal/horror angle of the book was almost too understated for me. I am an adult and used to more scares. But, as I said above, this would be a perfect book for middle-grade kids. But for adults, no.

The end of the book left me feeling unfulfilled. While I liked what Ollie did, I was left wanting more. There is a book 2, which I would like to read.


I would give Small Spaces a Tween rating. There is no sex. There is no language. There is mild violence. I would recommend that no one under the age of 13 read this book.

I would reread Small Spaces. I would recommend it to family and friends.

**I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book**

3 thoughts on “Small Spaces (Small Spaces: Book 1) by Katherine Arden”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.