Small Spaces

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Small Spaces Book Poster Image
Tween horror done right: scary, not gory, with some heart.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Literature discussed by characters includes Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And mentions of characters from Greek myths: Persephone and Cerberus. Reminders to keep hydrated and fed in an emergency for better decision-making.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about bravery, teamwork, overcoming loss. Plus, the realization that people don't cry because they are weak but because they feel things.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ollie ostracizes herself from friends and her father after her mother's death. She acts rashly, throwing a rock at someone's head. As the story progresses, she makes connections with others and begins to deal with her loss. Ollie is white, and one of the friends she makes is African American. Ollie's dad is the caretaker for the family while her mother was a math professor.


Creepiness is biggest factor here. No blood except for a scraped knee, removal of splinters, and when main character throws a rock at a boy's head. A panic attack on a bridge. A bus full of kids and their teacher disappears. Characters told to hide in small spaces from those coming for them at night on a remote farm. Scarecrows are everywhere and look like they are watching -- they are. Warnings issued from ghosts and a white-eyed man. Talk of disappearances in the past: two brothers, children lost in a school fire. Main character recounts details of her mother's death from an airplane crash a year before.


Mentions of Ollie's Schwinn bike and Snoopy Band-Aids.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Small Spaces is a creepy read with heart for tweens ready to be terrified of farm field trips. A bus breaks down, children disappear, and the main character knows to run and hide in small spaces from what's coming. There's no blood except for a scraped knee, the removal of splinters, and when the main character throws a rock at a boy's head. Scarecrows are everywhere and look like they're watching -- they are. There are warnings issued from ghosts and a white-eyed man and there's talk of disappearances in the past: two brothers and children thought lost in a school fire. The main character, Ollie, deals with the loss of her mother the year before the story begins. She and her friends are brave and resourceful, and team up in the face of danger.  

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bybookworm3284 October 24, 2018

Terrifying and fun! Perfect for Halloween.

(this is my first book review on here, but i am a bookworm, i mostly review everything on Goodreads, but i'll start reviewing more on here)
This middle gra... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byNo_Usern January 23, 2021

Good but...

This is really good. It was sweet, but I wasn’t spooked by it at all. I read it when I was 11. My sister (7) and brother (10) have both read it and were fine.

What's the story?

In SMALL SPACES, Ollie bikes to her favorite swimming hole after school. She assumes she'll be all alone in the chill of October, but she finds a woman there crying, ready to throw a book into the river. Ollie snatches it from her, appalled at the thought of ruining a book, and gets a warning from the crying woman: Stay away from open spaces at night. She bikes home to read the discarded book and discovers it's a diary written in 1885 by a woman on a farm. She falls asleep reading about two brothers who went missing and a curse. The next day she's headed to a farm on a field trip with her sixth grade class. To her great surprise, the head of the farm is none other than the crying woman from the swimming hole. And the names etched on headstones of the private cemetery look very familiar: two brothers and their family. Just when Ollie's good and ready to escape this bizarre farm on her school bus, it breaks down. In a very open space. With night fast approaching.

Is it any good?

Here's a rare thing: tween horror that's creepy instead of gory, well-written (minus some hastiness near the end), and starring thoughtful, memorable characters. And best of all for kids, they'll never look at a boring farm field trip the same way again. Or a simple scarecrow. Or a corn maze. Author Katherine Arden, in her first book for this age group, throws a lot in the scary-stuff pot and stirs. There are ghosts and old curses and a magical watch, too. The buildup to the bus breaking down is all well-paced and plotted, and Ollie, the main character, is very well drawn. She's hurting after the loss of her mother, but tough and determined to survive.

After Ollie escapes that first night with two classmates, the scares ratchet up. The more the trio learn about the scarecrows and the smiling man, the more hopeless it seems that they'll ever escape them. Which is why it's such a surprise when Small Spaces unravels so fast at the end. And without closure for some of the otherworldly characters they meet. Still, Ollie's bravery and sacrifice add a nice depth to the finish, and will satisfy thoughtful readers. Here's hoping for more tween-centered horror of the same high quality.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what scared them the most in Small Spaces. There's no gore here. How does the author provoke fear? Is it effective?

  • What is Ollie's most heroic moment? Why is she able to make this decision?

  • Are you a regular horror story reader? What makes this story stand out?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love horror

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