Small Spaces
Bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classicAfter 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.

Small Spaces Details

TitleSmall Spaces
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 25th, 2018
PublisherG.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ISBN-139780525515029
Rating
GenreChildrens, Middle Grade, Horror, Fantasy, Fiction

Small Spaces Review

  • Hannah
    January 1, 1970
    I would read Katherine Arden's shopping list if she published it.
  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    ARC given to me by a confirmed angel, Lilly at Lair of Books, which I will cherish and love forever!*the heaviest of breathing* Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Youtube | Twitch
  • Betsy
    January 1, 1970
    In fourth grade I sold my soul to the Scholastic Book Club’s Apple paperbacks. There was only one thing in the entire world I ever wanted to read, at that point. Only one thing that could make my little heart go pitter-pat, and that was the comforting presence of ghost stories. This was long before Bob Stine decided to slap an “R.L.” in front of his last name and stake a claim in the world of G-rated horror fare. But it was also long after John Bellairs made it his business to truck in the middl In fourth grade I sold my soul to the Scholastic Book Club’s Apple paperbacks. There was only one thing in the entire world I ever wanted to read, at that point. Only one thing that could make my little heart go pitter-pat, and that was the comforting presence of ghost stories. This was long before Bob Stine decided to slap an “R.L.” in front of his last name and stake a claim in the world of G-rated horror fare. But it was also long after John Bellairs made it his business to truck in the middle grade supernatural. The Apple paperbacks had titles like Ghost Cat, and Wait Till Helen Comes, and The Dollhouse Murders. They were written by folks like Betty Ren Wright and Willo Davis Roberts and Mary Down Hahn, and I loved them dearly. I wanted to be scared, but in the safest way imaginable. I remember distinctly picking up some rando Alfred Hitchcock story collection for kids and reading the warning that it would be the scariest thing I ever encountered, only to return it to the library without going any further. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark worked for me, if only because the stories themselves were just lame urban legends, while the art by Stephen Gammell was synthesized, purified nightmare fuel, perfect for sleepovers. All this is to say that I like to think I know my way around a scary book for the 9-12 year old set. It’s been a long time since I’ve found something that really made me nostalgic for those days of yore. Then I read a book that’s going to be absolutely perfect for those kids that loved Stranger Things and want something in the children’s room of the library that feels like that. Are you afraid of scarecrows? No? Well bad news, bucko. You’re about to be.We all deal with trauma in different ways. When you lose someone close to you, you find a way of dealing with the pain. For Ollie, books have always been her escape. After her mom’s death, Ollie has consistently lost herself in novels of every stripe, shutting out the world around her. Maybe that’s why she did it. Maybe that’s why she stole that woman’s book. It wasn’t anything she intended to do, of course, but one day, after school, Ollie encountered an odd woman on the cusp of chucking an old book into the river. Possessed by a sense of urgency, Ollie gets the book away from the woman, but not before she is handed a bit of advice. Avoid large spaces. Stick to small. Delving into the book later that night, Ollie discovers it to be the tale of a family wrenched apart by someone only known as “The Smiling Man” and the promises he makes. When Ollie is dragged onto a school trip to a local farm, she doesn’t connect the story with the world around her. Not until she starts noticing the scarecrows. Not until the school bus breaks down in the mist. And not until the scarecrows start noticing her too.Allow me to pause for a moment and offer an ode to a grand first page. A truly good first page of a children’s novel is a thing of beauty. It’s not that anything has to happen, necessarily. It's just that if the author is talented enough then they will actually be able to convey, in roughly half a page, right from the start, whether or not they’re the kind of writer you want to dedicate several hours of your life to. Now consider the first page of Small Spaces. There are ten sentences there and within those ten there are already three or four that I adore. The first reads, “Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light and wishing she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine.” Aside from being a pretty effective method of conveying a lot of information about a character without being too obvious about it, it’s also an interesting case of foreshadowing. Later in the novel there will be darker moments of craving the October sunshine and of staring through window panes both wanting, and not wanting, to be on the other side. The other sentences read “Mike Campbell got the shivers from squeaking blackboards and, for some reason, from people licking paper napkins. The sixth grade licked napkins around him as much as possible.” No real foreshadowing in that one, and Mike’s not even that important a character. I just love how it’s written.That keen authorial bent with a pen doesn’t just stop on that first page either. Arden's descriptions can often be delicious. “Her eyes looked – stretched – the way a dog looks, hiding under the bed during a thunderstorm.” Or, “The parking lot was full of puddles and the bus squatted in the middle of it like a prehistoric swamp monster.” Extra points are also allotted for including in the book quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that aren’t the usual suspects. Kids aren’t going to walk away from this book talking it up and lending it to their friends because of the similes or the Lewis Carroll shout-outs, though. They’re going to hand it around because Arden has mastered the art of rising tension that delivers. A good horror novel for kids shouldn’t just feel increasingly creepy. There has to be something truly terrible at its core that is going to get you and do something unspeakable to you. If the threat isn’t real, the tension isn’t going to work. But don’t worry. In this book the threat is real, the bad guy is terrifying, and the tension . . . well, let’s just say you could cut it with a knife hanging off of a smiling scarecrow’s arm.Now you can’t just write a book about a girl going on a creepy school trip. It’s a good thing to mention in the elevator pitch for the book, but there’s gotta be a little more meat on the bones (so to speak). Ollie’s mother is dead so right there that’s good. Dead moms are infinitely good fodder for a storytelling, particularly if the kid isn’t handling it particularly well. If you sit down and consider how odd it is that a remarkably traumatic night is what it takes to help the main character work through her grief, it is a little odd. But hey! That’s what storytelling is all about. Each of the three main kid characters is a fully rendered human being too. Ollie is (Arden is adept at making sure that tragedy does not equate personality) and so too are Coco and Brian. Coco in particular is a character I’ve never encountered in a children’s book before. Sweet, small, probably rich, and a perpetual victim. There’s a lovely moment late in the book when Ollie zeroes in on what makes Coco tick. “Coco didn’t cry because she was weak. Coco cried because she felt things. Ollie never cried because she didn’t feel things. Not anymore. Not really. She tried not to feel things.” Look at the beautiful repetition of those same words, over and over, repeated in different ways in those sentences. It’s still remarkable to me, after all these years, that you can take so few words in a children’s book, rearrange them slightly, and say something profound about a character’s very make-up.The very first moment Ollie is told the titular advice to “Avoid large places at night” and “Keep to small” a memory twitched at the back of my brain. I’d heard that advice before. Where? Ah yes. “The Boy Who Drew Cats”. It’s a Japanese folktale, easily found in (amongst other things) Fable Comics, edited by Chris Duffy. In that story, when a boy leaves the safety of a monastery he is given the advice, “Avoid large places, stick to small.” It’s not a particularly well-known story here in the States and I thought it a clever adaptation to this particular book. Arden makes no mention of the tale in her Acknowledgments so I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or not. Let’s just say it’s good advice, regardless of where it comes from.Living as we do in a post-Goosebumps world, it’s still funny to me that people haven’t taken more advantage of children’s endless appetites for horror. You’ll occasionally get a television show like Are You Afraid of the Dark? but it’s exceedingly rare. Fortunately middle grade novels never stopped producing creepy fare. Mary Downing Hahn is still alive, kicking, and churning out deathly fare. Mr. R.L. Stine still rules the roost. And with new authors like Katherine Arden picking up the mantle (picking up, heck – improving the mantle!) I’m confident these books aren’t going anywhere. At one point in this book Seth, the farm hand, says to Ollie, “Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.” You can take that as a threat if you like, but I take it as a promise.For ages 10-12.
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  • Katerina Kondrenko
    January 1, 1970
    7.5 out of 10 Very nice middle-grade story! I loved the writing (Arden knows how to make the words flow), creepy atmosphere, and the pacing. Oh, and the friendship too! Bromance development between the main characters was really great!
  • Bethany
    January 1, 1970
    I picked this up because I have loved the adult fantasy by this author, but I wasn't sure how I would feel about her writing a middle grade book. I'm happy to report that this was an unexpectedly amazing reading experience! I read this in a single sitting and could not put it down. Small Spaces is a deliciously creepy ghost story featuring some pretty terrifying scarecrows and a brave young heroine who is grieving the death of her mother. Full of adventure, friendship, a warm family, and some su I picked this up because I have loved the adult fantasy by this author, but I wasn't sure how I would feel about her writing a middle grade book. I'm happy to report that this was an unexpectedly amazing reading experience! I read this in a single sitting and could not put it down. Small Spaces is a deliciously creepy ghost story featuring some pretty terrifying scarecrows and a brave young heroine who is grieving the death of her mother. Full of adventure, friendship, a warm family, and some super scary moments, this is the perfect autumn read! My 12-year-old self would probably have had nightmares and refused to go near scarecrows for awhile, so for the age definitely be aware that this is not a lightly creepy book. Regardless, it's beautifully written, a very quick read, and perfect for kids or teens who are into the milder side of horror or scary ghost stories that still end well.
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    First thing's first: I got an ARC of this from the publisher via the book shop I work at. A gigantic thank you to that publisher for sending me the actual promotional box even though I live and work all the way in Sweden. An even bigger thank you goes to my boss, for asking for it for me in the first place!I'm not sure I can sing the praises of Arden anymore without sounding like a maniac. She is an exceptional writer, and she continues to shine with Small Spaces. This is a departure from her tr First thing's first: I got an ARC of this from the publisher via the book shop I work at. A gigantic thank you to that publisher for sending me the actual promotional box even though I live and work all the way in Sweden. An even bigger thank you goes to my boss, for asking for it for me in the first place!I'm not sure I can sing the praises of Arden anymore without sounding like a maniac. She is an exceptional writer, and she continues to shine with Small Spaces. This is a departure from her trilogy for sure, so I would advise coming to this book with that in mind. While you can see Arden's writing personality coming through with word choice and sentence structure and ability to weave in folkloric elements like an actual witch, this book does not spring from the same vein as TBatN and TGitT by any means. This book is like a classic Goosebumps, updated in all the best ways. If you read Goosebumps as a kid, you will lose your mind for Small Spaces. I know I can't expect Arden to write the same amount of books that is the R.L. Stine empire, but I so desperately hope that she continues with this middle grade horror and kindles a revitalized trend for it. The book! The book is about a young girl who experiences trauma before the book begins, and goes on a field trip that forces her to deal with that alongside the spooky, supernatural events occurring on a Vermont farm in the fall. The plot is fun and creepy, and while a seasoned reader such as myself could guess at some of the plot points, they were still satisfying to get to and executed wonderfully. It didn't scare the pants off me, but it gave me the most pleasant of chills from atmosphere and nostalgia in even parts.
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  • Ellie (faerieontheshelf)
    January 1, 1970
    I swear to the gods above this better be published in the UK too otherwise I will become a small angry ball of agitation ;-;
  • Scarlett
    January 1, 1970
    This was good enough. It is completely my fault that I expected The Bear and the Nightingale, a writer doesn't have to follow the same genre or style to satisfy the readers, but still, I wish some complexity in world building matched the first book. There were some beautiful lines and loveable characters, but in the end, this story was naive. This was intended for younger teenagers, so I understand that it was crucial to make everything more simplistic (not an insult for teenagers, just a heads This was good enough. It is completely my fault that I expected The Bear and the Nightingale, a writer doesn't have to follow the same genre or style to satisfy the readers, but still, I wish some complexity in world building matched the first book. There were some beautiful lines and loveable characters, but in the end, this story was naive. This was intended for younger teenagers, so I understand that it was crucial to make everything more simplistic (not an insult for teenagers, just a heads up).The blurb is magical and amazing, I was hooked as soon as I saw it and it made me so happy that I was approved for ARE. Ollie, a smart little bookworm, finds a book that sounds like fantasy, but it is a guide for her when she falls through another dimension. Scarecrows, ghosts, Smiling Man - it all has a Stephen King quality to it, but it's intended for kids. She and her two friends try to find a way out and go back home, all while making difficult decisions and growing in the meantime. It is a nice story, but some of the twists didn't make sense and the ending was somewhat flat. I hope some of the things will get fixed in the final version. I got my ARE through Edelweiss, thanks to the Penguin Publishing Group for this reading opportunity!
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  • Jocelyn
    January 1, 1970
    I get a little more in-depth with my thoughts here, but basically, this is a wonderfully spooky, atmospheric middle grade that gives you those cozy autumnal feels.
  • Sami
    January 1, 1970
    New favorite middle grade mystery. Makes me want to curl up with hot chocolate and a blanket even though it's 80+ degrees here!
  • Kath ☽ novelandfolk
    January 1, 1970
    A super fun, spooky, fast-paced read that brings me back to the good old Goosebumps days. I would completely approve if middle grade horror became a thing again, especially if Katherine Arden is writing them. Full review to come!Thank you to the publisher for sending an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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  • JJ || This Dark Material
    January 1, 1970
    There were times I wanted more description and more world-building, but this is also a book geared towards middle grade readers and I read MG fiction so infrequently I'm happy to put the disconnect down to that. Small Spaces was wonderfully creepy and Ollie was a heroine as spunky and likeable as Vasya. Katherine really captured a Bradbury-esque spirit in this spooky tale and I'm delighted to add it to my shelves next to the Winternight trilogy. Full review coming 9/2018!
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  • Mel Hawk
    January 1, 1970
    I love Katherine Arden’s Bear and the Nightingale trilogy and this is going to be a fantastic creepy young reader book come September! I really enjoyed this fast paced creepy book about scarecrows and one bus trip to a farm. Can’t wait for this to come out in the fall!!
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    This is so much more than a spooky story. It has all the things I love about middle grade fiction. This story is so well written. It is complex without being complicated.
  • Ina
    January 1, 1970
    If Stephen King wrote a book for children, this would be it. Ollie is 11-years-old and has just lost her mother...she finds solace in books. When she comes upon a distressed woman throwing a book into the river near Ollie’s favorite swimming spot, she rescues it. It is the story of a family who lived in a farm just outside town many years ago who come in contact with a mysterious “smiling man” who wreaks havoc on their lives. Ollie can’t put the book down and takes it with her on a field trip to If Stephen King wrote a book for children, this would be it. Ollie is 11-years-old and has just lost her mother...she finds solace in books. When she comes upon a distressed woman throwing a book into the river near Ollie’s favorite swimming spot, she rescues it. It is the story of a family who lived in a farm just outside town many years ago who come in contact with a mysterious “smiling man” who wreaks havoc on their lives. Ollie can’t put the book down and takes it with her on a field trip to the very farm in the book, now owned by descendants of the family in the book. The creepiness really begins on that field trip, and include a creepy bus driver that tells Ollie to run when the bus breaks down on the way home and scarecrows that seem to be moving around and multiplying. The characters are well developed and likeable -even the class bully turns out to be surprisingly kind and brave. The plot is simple, and satisfyingly scary. The climax occurs when Ollie meets the “smiling man” herself and must make some tough decisions. She is smart and brave, and the ending is very satisfying. Recommended for upper elementary grades into middle school.
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  • Jerry
    January 1, 1970
    So...I got home from work Wednesday night, walked in the door, kicked back in my recliner, clicked on the TV remote, and...the power goes off. It had been storming most of the day, which means this wasn't entirely unexpected. We live in the country and occasionally experience power outages during inclement weather. Already in panic mode, my wife calls the electric utility company and finds out there's an equipment failure in our neighborhood. It will be at least five hours before service is rest So...I got home from work Wednesday night, walked in the door, kicked back in my recliner, clicked on the TV remote, and...the power goes off. It had been storming most of the day, which means this wasn't entirely unexpected. We live in the country and occasionally experience power outages during inclement weather. Already in panic mode, my wife calls the electric utility company and finds out there's an equipment failure in our neighborhood. It will be at least five hours before service is restored. We live in Texas, and even though it's early May, it's much too warm to sleep with no A/C or fan, so what's a guy to do? Open up my trusty Kindle, of course, and begin reading the latest digital ARC I recently downloaded from Edelweiss: SMALL SPACES by Katherine Arden. I had already enjoyed her acclaimed novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, so I was truly looking forward to more of the same amazing writing. Let's just say I was underwhelmed. [Insert publisher's book blurb here.] As a narrative, older readers will find familiar elements of popular scary tales and movies woven into the text (a haunted maze, stalking scarecrows, a magical fog, changelings, etc...). I just didn't think there was very much original thought put into the story line. That being said, the lady CAN spin a tale. It was compelling and entertaining enough that it kept me literally up most of the night--I finished it an hour AFTER the power came back on. The cover alone is going to be enough to entice middle-schoolers to snatch this upcoming novel off the shelf. This book is probably going to hook young readers quickly and keep them on the edge of their seats. If you work with upper elementary/middle grade children, put this one on your to-buy list when it comes out in September 2018.
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  • Alison
    January 1, 1970
    OOoo, this book gave me the best shivers! I wish I hadn't read it in August because it would be the best book to read with a cup of hot cider on a dark and windy night. It was creative, spooky and exciting as all the best ghost stories are.
  • Julia (Shakespeare and Such)
    January 1, 1970
    4.2/5 stars, full review to come!Plot: 4/5Characters: 4/5Pacing: 5/5Writing: 4/5Enjoyment: 4/5
  • Courtney
    January 1, 1970
    This book had so many elements that spoke to me, it was an Autumn setting, it had ghost stories and folklore, it felt like Labyrinth, it quoted Alice, it was a winner.
  • Kim McGee
    January 1, 1970
    Ollie is going through a tough time dealing with her mom's death and she just wants everyone to leave her alone so she can escape reality in books. But one day a book falls into her hands that will change her life and others in her small town. A field trip to a mysterious farm turns very creepy. My advice will echo that given to Ollie - hide in small spaces, stay away from the mist and keep clear of the scarecrows. Other important middle school lessons are emphasized such as not paying too much Ollie is going through a tough time dealing with her mom's death and she just wants everyone to leave her alone so she can escape reality in books. But one day a book falls into her hands that will change her life and others in her small town. A field trip to a mysterious farm turns very creepy. My advice will echo that given to Ollie - hide in small spaces, stay away from the mist and keep clear of the scarecrows. Other important middle school lessons are emphasized such as not paying too much attention to first impressions and the importance of friends to get you through tough times. Classic horrible field trip ghost story - Stephen King meets Sleepy Hollow! Prepare to be freaked out by scarecrows and corn mazes. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
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  • Diana
    January 1, 1970
    I admit that I’m partial to creepy, Halloweeny stories featuring weather—but even so, this was unquestionably a delightful story. Like a warm blanket + terror. :)
  • Lauren
    January 1, 1970
    A phenomenal middle grade debut by Arden! Creepy in all the right ways, wonderful characters, I loved all of it. Though I’m reading this outside in the middle of summer, it’s taken me right to an autumn day. Can’t wait to put this on our shelves in September!
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  • Carolyn Jeziorski
    January 1, 1970
    I picked up an ARC while at the ALA conference in June. Wow! This is the first book I’ve read by Arden. What a delightfully creepy book! Ollie, the main character, grabs a book from a crazed lady one afternoon. The story in the book mirrors that of a local farm, which her class is set to visit on a damp, misty day. Ollie and two of her classmates, Coco and Brian, manage to escape the lurking evil at the farm that entraps her classmates. This middle grade book will definitely creep kids out (in a I picked up an ARC while at the ALA conference in June. Wow! This is the first book I’ve read by Arden. What a delightfully creepy book! Ollie, the main character, grabs a book from a crazed lady one afternoon. The story in the book mirrors that of a local farm, which her class is set to visit on a damp, misty day. Ollie and two of her classmates, Coco and Brian, manage to escape the lurking evil at the farm that entraps her classmates. This middle grade book will definitely creep kids out (in a good way). I’m a bit of a wimp, and although I wanted to finish the book before bed, I saved the last 30 pages for the morning so I wouldn’t have nightmares. 😂 The three kids use their varied talents to survive, and it’s refreshing how Arden makes them multifaceted (a hockey player who reads, a city girl who’s a rock climber). Definitely going to recommend this to upper elementary and middle schoolers!
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  • Ireadkidsbooks
    January 1, 1970
    The kind of story that middle grade readers will stay up late to finish, but won't want to read when it's dark outside! Ollie would rather read than pay attention to class...or to her irritating classmates. It's easier to lose herself in a book than face the sadness of the last year. After a bizarre encounter with a crazed woman by the river, Ollie has the perfect distraction: A small book, old, about a strange "smiling man" and missing brothers. Days later, a field trip to a farm near their Ver The kind of story that middle grade readers will stay up late to finish, but won't want to read when it's dark outside! Ollie would rather read than pay attention to class...or to her irritating classmates. It's easier to lose herself in a book than face the sadness of the last year. After a bizarre encounter with a crazed woman by the river, Ollie has the perfect distraction: A small book, old, about a strange "smiling man" and missing brothers. Days later, a field trip to a farm near their Vermont home goes horribly wrong and the chilling tale from Ollie's old book begins to unfold in real life. When Ollie is told, "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you," she and two classmates flee to the woods, where sinister things await. With a little guidance from an unexpected source, Ollie, Brian, and Coco stick to the "small spaces," where they can't be reached, and fight for their lives against the smiling man and his unexpected servants.
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  • Jennifer Hill
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent creepy read! I could not put it down until I found out what happened to Ollie (Olivia), Coco, and Brian. Would they survive the night or not???? This story has missing people, lots of scarecrows, a old diary, and ghosts. What's not to love?
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    Um for a middle grade, this sounds really intense. But this is one I am definitely not missing!
  • Maddy (booksandcatsandnaps)
    January 1, 1970
    Stranger Things meets The Walking Dead?!
  • Jen
    January 1, 1970
    **I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**This is one of those books that I wish I had put down earlier on than I did, but because I kept thinking it might get better, I kept going. It helped that it was very short and a very quick read. But the story itself felt confusing and ungrounded, with characters that were only mildly interesting and a plot that just did not make a lot of sense.We first meet Ollie, the protagonist of the story, **I received this as an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**This is one of those books that I wish I had put down earlier on than I did, but because I kept thinking it might get better, I kept going. It helped that it was very short and a very quick read. But the story itself felt confusing and ungrounded, with characters that were only mildly interesting and a plot that just did not make a lot of sense.We first meet Ollie, the protagonist of the story, who is super-smart, a self-made loner, always dreaming and imagining things and getting herself lost in books, and a little bratty to be honest. Having lost her mother to a plane crash the year before, she has lost herself in the anger stage of bereavement, and has not moved past it. Everyone still walks on eggshells around her. Her home life seems like it came out of some strange fairytale in a storybook, with a house colored like an Easter egg, a father who bakes, and a mother who took her mushroom picking for special occasions. Then, during her ordeals in the mist world, she takes action and is brave and sort of makes friends with two other kids (partially because they’re the only ones who escaped with her) and learns that “there is more to them than they appear.” She also starts to move on from her anger over her mother’s death, and by the end Ollie is basically a happy and content child who is no longer angry at the world. This character development was just way too fast and did not flow very well. There was one moment where she had to face her fear of heights, which had never been mentioned before because every time she thought of flying with her mother (who flew planes for a hobby or something?), it was with happy thoughts, not fear. But apparently she is terrified of heights, until after crossing a rickety bridge she isn’t anymore. That’s not character development, that’s just writing in hindsight – as if, while she was writing the scene, the author realized that the fact that Ollie’s mother died in a plane crash should have an impact on Ollie’s capability in dealing with heights and the prospect of falling from them.Onto the plot. It was…strange to say the least. It had it’s scary moments, for sure, but definitely not enough to keep me on the edge of my seat the whole time. There was one point when it made me think of Over the Garden Wall, but that sadly didn’t last long. I think what was most problematic was the mythology and world-building of it all. There was so much mystery and unknown about what was happening to Ollie and her classmates, that with each new semi-revelation, things only felt more confusing. And when everything finally came to a head, I still felt like I was missing something. The idea and history behind the smiling man just felt ungrounded as a whole, with only a vague recollection of events written in a book called Small Spaces being the only basis for Ollie to understand that things weren’t quite right at Misty Valley Farm. Warnings were given in such confusing and unclear ways that I had no idea what was going on, and the explanations weren’t all that much better. And the climax felt kind of typical and overdone, with the triumph being a little underwhelming in how easily it came about. This book just kind of irked me to no end. The storyline was lacking, the characters were only half-interesting, and the plotline was completely ungrounded. It felt like there needed to be more of a connection between Ollie and the smiling man somehow, or more of a general knowing that strange things happen (such as people going missing) around the farm to make a more firm basis for the mystery of the whole ordeal. It had its scary moments, sure, but between the poor character development and the confusing and incomplete-feeling plotline, I just don’t think this is a book I will be recommending.1 star
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  • Mary Sue
    January 1, 1970
    I picked up this book from the library’s ARC cart. Loved the cover art. It wasn’t till I started reading that I realized this was youth fiction. Read it anyway and enjoyed the story and the three main characters. Ollie is a sixth grade math prodigy who suffered a personal tragedy that left her alienated from all except her wonderful dad. Her classmates Brian the hockey player and Cocoa the new girl are forced to team up to survive. Their class has a field trip to a farm with an unusual amount of I picked up this book from the library’s ARC cart. Loved the cover art. It wasn’t till I started reading that I realized this was youth fiction. Read it anyway and enjoyed the story and the three main characters. Ollie is a sixth grade math prodigy who suffered a personal tragedy that left her alienated from all except her wonderful dad. Her classmates Brian the hockey player and Cocoa the new girl are forced to team up to survive. Their class has a field trip to a farm with an unusual amount of scarecrows. On the way back to school the bus breaks down and is engulfed in a fog bank. And then it gets scary.
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  • Veronica
    January 1, 1970
    A delightfully creepy middle-grade novel! Ollie (a sixth grade math genius who has lost her interest in everything except reading in the wake of her mother's death) is a wonderfully plucky heroine and I greatly enjoyed her two unexpected sidekicks: Coco, the new girl who cries too easily and is predictably a favorite target for bullies, and Brian, the hockey-playing popular kid who turns out to be a supremely well-prepared Boy Scout. The mystery/ghost story manages to be fun, compelling and mean A delightfully creepy middle-grade novel! Ollie (a sixth grade math genius who has lost her interest in everything except reading in the wake of her mother's death) is a wonderfully plucky heroine and I greatly enjoyed her two unexpected sidekicks: Coco, the new girl who cries too easily and is predictably a favorite target for bullies, and Brian, the hockey-playing popular kid who turns out to be a supremely well-prepared Boy Scout. The mystery/ghost story manages to be fun, compelling and meaningful all at the same time. Strongly recommend to middle-grade readers who like things a little spooky but want character development as well.
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