Small Spaces


Katherine Arden


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 26, 2023

atherine Arden is the author of the excellent Winternight Trilogy. Although I did not write reviews, all three novels, The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, and The Winter of the Witch, were five star books. It occured to me that I ought to see what else Arden had written, so I checked the library catalog. I found Small Spaces, which is a young adult novel (216 pgs in the hardback edition).

Small Spaces stars Olivia Alder, a bright eleven year old girl who no longer has a zest for things such as friends or after-school activities - ever since her mom died, Ollie (she insists that everyone call her Ollie, only her mother was allowed to call her Olivia) wants to do nothing but read books and forget about the real world. Ollie's dad is an understanding soul, and a great chef besides, and although Ollie appreciates his efforts, really, who wants to participate in the chess club anymore?

The other kids at school are just annoying. There is Coco, the small girl who just moved to small town Evansburg from the big city. She cries too easily and so of course the others torment her. Then there is Brian, the star of the school's hockey team - but he is probably too dumb to even read! (Ollie is currently reading Captain Blood, a story about a pirate captain - a book that I read myself, decades ago. Ollie has a good choice in books!)

Riding her bicycle home from school, Ollie happens upon a strange sight. A distraught woman is standing beside Lethe Creek, clutching a book in her hand. Ollie wants to understand why the woman has been crying, but the woman blurts out a garbled explanation about how she must throw the book into the creek. Books are valuable! Not to be ruined! If she doesn't want the book, why not just donate it to the library booksale? But the woman is intent on destroying the slim volume. On a reckless impulse, Ollie snatches the book from the woman's hand and pedals away.

When she gets home, Ollie discovers that the rescued book is titled Small Spaces. She begins to read, and discovers it is a sort of ghost tale about two brothers, Caleb and Jonathan. Caleb went out fishing one icy cold day, and did not return. A couple of days past without any sign of Caleb. His mother, Cathy Brewster, was frantic with worry. She ordered Jonathan to go find his brother, and not return without him. Jonathan left, and he did come back with Caleb. But Caleb and Jonathan are oddly changed...

Ollie is fascinated by Small Spaces, she wants to keep reading, and so tries to feign sickness, so she can skip the school fieldtrip to the farm, but her father is wise to her "ailments", and off Ollie goes to the school bus.

The dreary misty farm turns out to be far scarier than Ollie had imagined. She ends up in a nightmare - the farm has a disturbing similarity to the haunting events described in Small Spaces. Ollie is menaced by scarecrows and the sinister Smiling Man. As fate would have it, her only allies are Coco and Brian, all the other kids and the chaperone are captured by the animated scarecrows. Can Ollie rescue her classmates and save the day?