I became a big fan of Katherine Arden’s work after falling in love with the Winternight Trilogy, especially with the first installment «The Bear and the Nightingale». She released her first middle-grade book – «Small Spaces» in 2018 and I’ve been trying to get my hands on it ever since.
What I didn’t know going into this book, but was pleasantly surprised by, was that this is going to be a four-book series! With each book representing one season. «Small Spaces» focuses on autumn, it’s set in October and is filled with scarecrows. I assure you, you won’t look the same at scarecrows after reading this.
The second installment – «Dead Voices» focuses on winter and it came out in 2019. The other two books should be for spring and summer.
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.
I didn’t get a chance to fall in love with horror stories when I was little. It’s not something my parents bought me to read, and I was never a big library user. I used to be so shy that even going to the library and speaking with people I didn’t know to check out books or ask for recommendations seemed like the scariest thing in the world.
Of course, there were sleepovers and gatherings on Friday the 13th with many scary stories told in the dark. But those were fun, and not even a little bit creepy.
Any young reader who’s looking for something a little bit scarier with a lot of tension, look no further! This new quartet by Katherine Arden is a must-read!
WHAT I LIKED:
1 – I’ve proclaimed my love for Arden’s writing in my reviews of the Bear and the Nightingale books already, but I have to mention this again. Katherine Arden writes the most beautiful and at the same time engaging sentences. She manages to use the same words in a different way to give them deeper emotional connections or a completely different meaning.
2 – «Small Spaces», as I already mentioned, focuses on Autumn in Vermont. In her interview with Bookpage, Katherine Arden mentioned:
“I had so much fun filling the novel with the things I see every fall near my home,” she says. “Corn mazes, scarecrows, haunted houses—these are part of the fall landscape here.”
I love how she draws inspiration from the things around us and from her own experiences – Vermont and its rich history, or Russian literature and folklore that she studied in college. Probably that’s why Arden’s works seem so tangible when actually her books are filled with magic.
3 – Atmospheric and compelling, Katherine Arden will make you look differently at scarecrows. Do you know that kind and friendly scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz who helped and defended Dorothy during her adventures? Yeah… scarecrows in «Small Spaces» are VERY different!
This book was written for children, so I didn’t find it very scary, but I liked how Katherine Arden built tension around the scary elements, which allowed for a more intense reading experience.
4 – A 10 or 12 years-old me would have loved this book so much! Afterall, it has all the elements I always loved in books:
- a fantastic group of friends, who wouldn’t be friends if not for the events in the book;
- the good vs evil;
- a heartwarming family relationship (Ollie’s father sounds incredible!); and
- a few elements of growth and self-discovery, as Ollie needs to face her emotions.
If you haven’t read any of Katherine Arden’s books yet, I definitely recommend starting with «The Bear and the Nightingale». It’s the best book ever and I will never stop talking about it. And after reading it, you need to check out this new middle-grade series. It’s a delight to read and I’m getting the 2nd book as soon as possible to enjoy during the colder season of the year.
What is your favorite middle-grade book? I’d love some recommendations!