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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Katherine Arden
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
- Publication date: September 25, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.