Small Spaces: pleasant middle grade read

This was a pleasant middle grade read! Though the premise, strange old ghost-like creature controlling scarecrows, seems ordinary, the writing made the book.


  • Enjoy fantasy
  • Love ghost stories
  • Are in the mood for well-written MG

TitleSpaces Spaces Author: Katherine Arden | Rating: 3/5

This was a pleasant middle grade read! Though the premise, strange old ghost-like creature controlling scarecrows, seems ordinary, the writing made the book.

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’s mom died a year ago in a place crash, and Ollie’s been retreating into her own world of books since then. She’s quit the chess team, softball, and doesn’t have friends.

On her way back home one day, she comes on an older woman crying by the river, a book in hand. She’s ready to fling the book into the water, but Ollie steals the book from her and takes it home to read. The book is called Small Spaces and it’s a ghost story written by Beth Webster. Ollie can’t tear herself away from. The book starts out with Beth writing notes to her daughter, but it quickly becomes ominous as Beth’s husband strikes a deal with the Smiling Man. Most of all, the book says to Avoid large places at night. Keep to small.

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 think the story was original; after all, old farm, scarecrows, and ghosts have been done before. But the writing was fast-paced and though for a younger audience, I was still compelled to read.

It definitely had a spooky feel to it, and somewhat made me feel like I was in Halloween season, the setting drew me in that much.

The story itself was decent, showing how Ollie grows from withdrawn and somewhat mean to her classmates, to a leader who uses her mom’s wristwatch to get her new friends and herself out of trouble. She grows from sullen girl to having friends and dealing better with her grief at losing her mother. I love how the book addressed her feelings not as being insignificant because she’s a child, but showing the depth because she’s a person, albeit a younger one.

A quick, fun, spooky read.

2 thoughts on “Small Spaces: pleasant middle grade read

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