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.
Katherine Arden can do no wrong.
This is pure short and creepy perfection. Just the right side of scary, more infinitely creepy than terrifying. Hinting at the monster under the bed, not outright showing them too often. It’s brilliantly done. The scarecrows mixed with the myth of the smiling man is definitely enough for me to be glad I read it in daylight (just about!)
Her writing style shines through too – while being noticeably different to the Winternight book, it’s still gloriously descriptive and gorgeously written.
Ollie is a girl trying to come to terms with the loss of her mother. Too smart and wanting to get away from it all. Her love for the book within the book is fab too – I always enjoy that. The way we get the story and the bits of the real world intertwined is perfect.
I also liked how Coco and Brian trusted her and stepped up when needed. They made great allies, and even friends.
4.5 stars. Amazing.
Buy Small Spaces from Amazon UK (affiliate link)