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Small Spaces #1

Small Spaces

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New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic

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 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.

218 pages, Hardcover

First published September 25, 2018

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About the author

Katherine Arden

18 books14.5k followers
A note to everyone who trips and falls upon my Goodreads page. First, welcome. Let us read and discuss all the books together. I review books I've read, everything gets five stars, if I didn't like it I don't put it up.

Second, Goodreads is wondrous, but contacting me through my Goodreads DMs is a good way to ensure a long wait for a reply. Your best bet is Twitter or Instagram (arden_katherine) on both.

Happy reading.

Born in Texas, Katherine studied French and Russian at Middlebury College. She has lived abroad in France and in Moscow, among other places. She has also lived in Hawaii, where she wrote much of The Bear and the Nightingale. She currently lives in Vermont.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,562 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah.
594 reviews1,055 followers
Shelved as 'to-read-unowned'
April 10, 2018
I would read Katherine Arden's shopping list if she published it.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
January 29, 2019

ARC given to me by a confirmed angel, Lilly at Lair of Books, which I will cherish and love forever!

“You might get to know characters in books, Ollie thought, but getting to know a human was an entirely different thing.”

Small Spaces is Katherine Arden’s debut middle grade novel and I loved it so very much friends. Many of you know that The Bear and the Nightingale is one of my favorite books of all-time, and even though these stories are nothing like one another, the beautiful writing, amazing characters, and important themes shine through. I went into this expecting a fun and spooky read (which it was), but what I also got was such a beautiful love letter to grief, depression, and trying to live in a world that has taken away someone who you feel you cannot live without.

In a small town in Vermont, our main character is riding her bike home from school one fall afternoon, when she notices a woman attempting to throw an old book in the water. Ollie, being the book lover that she is, feels obliged to stop and see what’s going on.

Olivia Adler - But she mostly goes by Ollie. A twelve-year-old, sixth grader, who loves to read and is trying to live her life while grieving a terrible loss. And the only way she truly knows how to cope is the escapism of books. (Also, there is a brief mention of her mom having brown skin, but I am not 100% sure of Ollie’s race.)

Coco Zintner - The tiniest child in Ollie’s class. She has a somewhat famous mother and has recently moved to the school. But her innocence and eccentricities constantly make her a target for bullying.

Brian Battersby - Jamaican and your typical middle school jock, who Ollie has known her entire life. And Ollie learns very quickly that you should not stereotype people, because they might surprise you.

And their paths truly cross unexpectedly once Olivia begins to read the book that was almost abandoned. She learns of a farm, and a girl, and two brothers, and a missing persons case that was never solved. And now Ollie and her friends are going on a field trip to a farm that is very reminiscent of the story she has been reading about.

And yes, friends, this is a spooky book. I mean, it’s nothing too scary or too much, but Katherine Arden for sure paints an eerie atmosphere and some extremely creepy monster like characters. And I truly think this will make the perfect Halloween read this year, for so many ages, but this book was also so much more than that.

This is a book about healing and friendship and learning to let go while simultaneously never letting go. This book is about escapism through books and how books carry some of the most powerful healing magic imaginable. And this is a book about healing at your own pace and in your own time.

“Maybe, she kept thinking, when she came back from one of those other worlds, when she woke up from book dreaming, she would come back to a world where […] wasn’t dead.”

Ollie is really dealing with some very serious depression and grief throughout this book. Like how we give up things that make us happy, just because those things remind you of the person who made you happiest. How sometimes the world feels too heavy, too loud, too empty, all because it’s missing someone who was your entire world. Yet, this is also a love letter to how the ones we lose will never truly be lost; they will always remain with us. Always.

Overall, I loved this book more than words. I wasn’t expecting it to make me feel everything that it did, and when I closed the book it truly felt like a cathartic experience. I recommend this book to any and every person, but especially during the autumnal season. I read this in a single sitting, I never once wanted to put it down, and I fell so deeply in love with it.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for minor bullying, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, and depression depiction.
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.5k followers
February 25, 2020
If you see me at your local farm, orchard, pumpkin patch, county fair, or other vaguely agricultural gathering place looking scared out of my pants, mind your business. I’m in recovery.

This book is SCARY!!!!

I see your illogical fear of clowns and I’ll do you one better: scarecrows.

I mean, “scare” is in the name. So it automatically makes more sense.

By far the scariest part of this was between the beginning and the climax, when scary things have started to happen but there are no answers.

Horror movies, for example, are not scary, because usually there is a clearly identifiable figure killing coeds and, like, cheerleaders in uniform and what have you, and clearly identifiable figures are hard to be afraid of. Life is FILLED with clearly identifiable figures. That’s life’s whole thing.

Life is NOT filled with stabby scarecrows and creepy farms and mysterious journals and something called the Smiling Man.

At least, my life isn’t. And I hope yours aren’t either.

This book is at its scariest when all of these things are mentioned but we haven’t really seen any of them yet - we just feel them there, at the outskirts of the story, about to creep in.

Once they’re there, it gets a lot less scary.

And therefore boring.

But overall this was pretty good.



me last night: i can handle reading this before bed. it's a children's book, after all. i'm an adult.

me 15 minutes later: (have to cover my ears with a pillow because I heard a noise and I think the scarecrows are coming for me)

review to come when i've recovered / 4 stars


horror movies are not scary. a spooky children's book about ghost stories and disappearing people and some creature called the Smiling Man? now that's scary
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,612 reviews10.7k followers
March 13, 2023
Small Spaces is an utterly charming, totally creepy Middle Grade story perfect for Horror fans, young and older alike.

My first Katherine Arden, but it certainly will not my last. I was so impressed with this!

This is a fantastic introduction to the Horror genre for younger readers. I also feel it is an excellent book to read while transitioning into the Spooky season.

This entire book is steeped in chilly Fall vibes!

After Ollie's Mom dies in a tragic accident, she copes by immersing herself within the pages of her books.

Returning home from school one day, she stumbles upon a distraught woman, talking nonsense, and preparing to throw a book into a river.

Ollie reacts strongly. Who would want to throw a perfectly harmless book into a river!?

She snatches the book away from the woman, hops on her bike and escapes to home.

That night, as she starts to read the rescued volume, she discovers a wonderfully creepy story inside. Told in epistolary format, one of my personal favorites, the narrative comes to life for Ollie.

Luckily, as the Reader, we get to follow along with her as she discovers the story of a girl named Beth and the two brothers who loved and fought for her.

I always enjoy a book-within-a-book trope, so this element was a nice surprise.

Staying up late reading is not new to Ollie, so she's barely fazed when it is time to head to school the next day. Her class actually has a field trip to a local farm scheduled.

As field trips go, it is nothing out of the ordinary, but Ollie does start to notice some strange occurrences over the course of the day. Maybe the content of the book is contributing, but she's a little jumpy.

On the way home that evening, the bus breaks down and their teacher sets off to get help.

That's when things start getting REALLY strange. Ollie's digital wristwatch, her Mom's old watch, starts a countdown on its own and flashes one word, RUN.

Ollie decides to listen to her gut, and the wristwatch, and does just that, along with two new friends in tow.

From there we follow Ollie, Coco and Brian as they try to survive the night, evading evil scarecrows, a creepy corn maze and other dangers along the way.

They must get help not just for themselves, but also the rest of their classmates they abandoned on the bus.

As mentioned above, I think this is a great introduction to the Horror genre either for younger readers, or readers of any age who are trying to feel out what they can handle.

There's definitely some genuinely scary elements in this. Personally, I am horrified by corn mazes, and scarecrows aren't much better.

I loved Ollie as a main character. Her bookishness and anxieties were beautifully executed and I found her highly likable and relatable.

I definitely plan to continue on with this series and am looking forward to getting to Dead Voices soon!
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,831 followers
January 31, 2022
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 rote 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.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,283 followers
September 21, 2023
“When the mist rises, and the smiling man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small.”

I absolutely adored everything about this book and couldn't get enough of it. Ollie is the most lovable little protagonist and I wanted with my whole heart to reach right into the book, pull her out, and give her a big hug, because she broke my heart time and time again with all of her pain and grief. Despite how hard it hit me whenever she dwelled on her loss, though, this story is first and foremost a horror book, and it excels at the spooky elements, too.

“Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.”

I know I'm not alone when I say that scarecrows are kind of creepy all on their own, and a story featuring a moving scarecrow is always going to make my blood chill a little (I blame R.L. Stine and the fact that The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight gave me literal nightmares as a kid!), but I thought these scarecrows were particularly unsettling and I really loved the descriptions of them!

“You might get to know characters in books, Ollie thought, but getting to know a human was an entirely different thing.”

I also adored the "book within a book" element of Small Spaces, which is a risky endeavor in my opinion because it can frequently ruin the immersion of the actual story, but in this case, Katherine Arden pulled it off flawlessly and I was just as invested in the Websters as I was in Ollie and her classmates! Well, almost—it's hard to compete with precious, soft little Coco and surprisingly clever and kind Brian. There's so much more than meets the eye with all three of these kiddos, and I loved getting to know them and watching them form the wonderful, adventurous, brave trio I knew they could be.

“You're kind of grumpy most of the time, but when things get bad, you're the bravest. People can surprise you.”

I'm so excited to continue the series and to see what terrifying little adventure Ollie is sent on next. I know nothing about the following books aside from their titles and covers, so I'm crossing my fingers that Brian and Coco are involved in the rest of them too, because I am nothing if not a sucker for an MG series with a brave, passionate little friend group going to battle for each other (and everyone else they know, usually). I loved this and can't recommend it highly enough, and I plan on continuing the series very, VERY soon!

Representation: Ollie is implied biracial (her mother is described as having brown skin but no specifics are stated), Brian is Jamaican

Content warnings for:

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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
October 3, 2019
Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Avoid large places at night. Keep to small.

It’s an ambiguous but ominous warning that Ollie Adler gets from two different people and an old book. But why?

Olivia (Ollie), age 11, is having a tough time dealing with a recent personal tragedy, and getting sympathetic looks from her father and teacher only makes it worse. She’s withdrawn from activities like the softball team and chess club that she once loved. Ollie still finds comfort in books, though, so when she comes across a distraught woman about to toss an old book into a creek, she snatches the book and runs away with it, but not before the woman gives her some unasked-for advice about keeping to small spaces at night.

The worn-out book, titled Small Spaces, turns out to be a personal history written by Beth Webster in the late 1800s. Her tale starts out charming, as Beth writes about the two brothers who both wanted to marry her. But then the story turns ominous as conflict erupts between the brothers, one disappears and the other makes a deal with a mysterious, smiling man.

When Ollie goes on a school field trip to a nearby Vermont farm the next day, she’s a little alarmed to find that the history of Misty Valley farm is suspiciously similar to Beth Webster’s story in the stolen book. Creepy-looking scarecrows are everywhere she looks on the farm, with trowels or rakes for hands. Then the school bus breaks down in the fog going home, their teacher disappears in the mists, and their strange bus driver ominously warns Ollie to get moving … and to keep to small spaces at night.

Small Spaces is Katherine Arden’s follow-up to her medieval Russian fantasy series, the WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY. I never would have guessed that the author of The Bear and the Nightingale wrote this creepy middle grade horror novel! It’s written in a completely different style, and is clearly for a younger set of readers. Small Spaces doesn’t compare to the WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY in depth or complexity, but it’s not meant to do so, and it has its own brand of spine-tingling appeal.

The three tweens who are the main characters, Ollie and her classmates Brian and Coco, are realistically drawn and relatable, but unusual enough to be memorable. Coco is the cute, tiny new girl in town who’s teased to tears by the boys; Brian is a black athlete from Jamaica who sticks out in small-town Vermont, but he’s not only found a good set of friends but is willing to extend his concern to others outside of his circle. Each of them has her or his human flaws but also shows some surprising strengths.
“How is she the clumsiest person ever on the ground, yet a squirrel when she’s climbing?” muttered Ollie.

Brian grinned. “You’re kind of grumpy most of the time, but when things get bad, you’re the bravest. People can surprise you, Ollie-pop.”
Ollie and her two classmates learn how important it is to help and trust each other. Through their terrorizing experiences, Ollie also finds strength to deal with her personal loss of a loved one. Unlike too many YA and children’s novels, Ollie’s parents are a concerned and loving presence in her life, helping her in whatever ways they can. Her relationship with them is heart-warming.

Small Spaces is a page-turning supernatural thriller that is superficially like an R.L. Stine GOOSEBUMPS novel, but there’s much more substance to this tale (and better writing). Hand a copy of this book to a tween who likes scary stories … or enjoy the thrills and chills yourself!
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,625 followers
May 23, 2020

Many thanks to the G.P. Putnam's Sons for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When the mist rises, and the Smiling Man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small.

Have you ever heard of the Scoville Scale? It is the scale that measures the spicy-ness of a food. Mainly peppers. With the lowest pepper, the Bell Pepper, all the way to the hottest, the Carolina Reaper 💀, the Scoville Scale has a variety of hotness. I feel like this reflects on horror books as well. Just like spicy food, different book are more or less potent. And just like spicy food, it affects people differently. Some can read a Stephen King book and be fine just like some can eat a jalapeño and be fine. I personally have a high horror tolerance (Funny, because I cannot stand spicy food.) so not a ton of books give me a good chill. This one did which was surprising considering its middle grade. Why? I'll tell you!

Firstly, the characters. I know it seems like I say this about every book but I loved all the characters (again), especially Ollie. 💓

♣ Ollie - God, I loved Ollie. She was, without a doubt, My favorite character. She reminded me of myself so much I felt as though as though I was looking into a mirror. She loves books, which obviously won me over instantly. She very headstrong and impulsive but in the best possible way. At the same time, she is very down to earth and quiet. I enjoyed seeing her rebellious side but also when she was calm, shy, and quick thinking.

♣ Brian - Hmmmmmm, well I didn't hate him. He definitely added to the story. He was the absolute opposite of Ollie and thus, me. Athletic, handsome, charismatic, popular. Words I would never use to describe myself. He was also not very chivalrous. He didn't directly bully but when he witnessed it happening, he did nothing to stop it. He also wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree. I'm just glad he didn't try to persue Ollie in a relationship because that would have made me cra-cra (Well, more than I already am. 😏)

♣ Coco - She was a bit like Brian, except more whiny and (dare I say it?) stupider. I honestly couldn't decide if she was supposed to be the comic relief or an antagonist. I felt the same way for Brian.

♣ Ollie's Dad - Even though he wasn't technically a main character, I still want to talk about Ollie's dad, who was never given a name. (As far as I can remember, that is). He's one of those characters that you simultaneously pity and hate at the same time. He would lash out but was still a very loving dad. I think the main reason I liked him is because he felt so human. So real and raw. He's grieving the loss of his wife and trying to take care of his daughter at the same time. I rooted him and I hope we see more of him in book two!

♣ Smiling Man - If Pennywise and Legend had a baby and then dipped in Pure Evil®, the Smiling Man would be that. Not only is he creepy, he is smart and conniving. I don't want to spoil anything but I just think he was such a perfect villain. I'd love to read his prequel story if it's ever written.

♣ Scarecrows - I mean this would be like calling the Walkers from The Walking Dead characters. But still. The attention to detail for these creatures was stunning and terrifying. That combined with the seriously creepy cover art made these things one of the creepiest made up creatures I've ever heard of. Also, when one of them spoke... Creepiest scene of the whole book.

This book seems to dip into a variety of genres. From fantasy to Mystery to sci-fi. I have seen books try and fail to pull this off. It ain't easy to do well. So props to Katherine Arden for doing that well! 🙌🙌 This read like a mystery because of it's clues and sleuthing but also like a fantasy because of the zombie scarecrows and evil smiling man. I also loved that it felt like a zombie apocalypse book. I love zombie apocalypses (I mean, I'd never want to experience one but I love reading about them.) but it is so hard to find a good zombie apocalypse book. Even though this wasn't a zombie apocalypse book per se, it still is one of the best ones I have ever read. I also really loved the farm setting. That just added to the already superb creepiness.

Something I except from most books, especially middle grade ones, is a strong moral theme. I loved the team work, self sacrifice and kindness shown by almost all of the characters. Good job, book! 👍

I am a knowledge addict. When I find a subject, especially a science fiction or fantasy one, I need to know everything. While I got enough lore to just barely satisfy me, I still was left wanting to know more about how the world works. I want to know the ins and outs of everything from The Smiling Man to the Scarecrows to the Small Spaces book. Book two, you had better come through.

The ending felt a bit too perfect, a bit too easy. Somehow, I have a feeling this is not the past we'll of the Smiling Man...

4.5 Stars.

That. Was. Astoundingly, Surprisingly, amazing!!!!

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Profile Image for jenny✨.
578 reviews838 followers
November 4, 2020
a delightfully spooky halloween story—i only wish that ollie hadn't been so insufferable at the start (is that too mean to say about an 11yo??)



the purples in this cover speak to my soul
Profile Image for sarah.
404 reviews268 followers
November 6, 2020
“Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you.”

Guys. Guys. I loved this book so so much! I have recently been on a spooky middle grade kick and this one was undoubtably my favourite out of them all. Small Spaces is my first Katherine Arden, but will not be last. I am now doubly as excited to try out her Winternight series.

This book follows 11 year old Ollie, who spots a woman about to throw an old book in the water. As any good book lover would do, Ollie snatches the book and runs away. The book is a personal history from the 1800s that describes events in the life of Beth Webster. Soon after she finds the book, Ollie goes on a field trip to a nearby farm, and begins to draw parallels between the book and the people around her. The school bus breaks down on the trip home and Ollie and few of her classmates get thrown into a terrifying adventure.

"When the mist rises, and the Smiling Man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small."

I am not someone that gets scared of things like clowns, ghosts etc. very easily- but I am never going to look at a scarecrow the same way again. This book had me thoroughly unnerved from as soon as the bus broke down, and that ominous feeling didn't dissipate until the very last page.

At the beginning I wasn't too sure about how I felt regarding the characters. They seemed a little simplistic and underdeveloped for my taste. But as the book progressed, I found myself being increasingly attached to them all (which made the book even scarier, because I was afraid for what would happen to my little children). I am so glad that this is a series, because I have not gotten nearly enough of Ollie, Coco and Brian.

That being said, if you aren't interested in beginning a whole new series and having to commit to 4 books for a satisfying conclusion- this book is perfect for you! It is entirely self contained and can 100% be read as a standalone.

Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised by this book! I cannot wait to continue on with the series, and read everything else by Katherine Arden. If you liked the idea of City of Ghosts, but found the execution to be underwhelming, I would recommend this book! While this is perfect for halloween, it does not necessarily have to be read then. Any time in autumn would match the atmosphere and tone really well. That being said, my southern hemisphere self read this in spring and still enjoyed it- so it definitely isn't reliant on external factors, for me at least.

★★★★☆.5 stars
Profile Image for Shruti.
106 reviews91 followers
November 12, 2019
"When the mist rises, and the smiling man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night.
Keep to small."

Small Spaces was my first Katherine Arden book and I loved it! At first I was skeptical because this is her middle grade debut novel but once I started to read, all my reservations about the book disappeared. Quoting C. S. Lewis, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." Fortunately, Small Spaces proves to be that amazing children's story that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Eleven-year-old Ollie Adler turns to the comfort of books after suffering a tragic loss. She becomes distant and tries to keep to herself as much as she can. But when she comes across a woman who is planning to throw a book into the river, Ollie snatches it and runs. The book is called Small Spaces and it's in the form of a letter written by a mother to her daughter about the sinister events that took place at a farm called Smoke Hollow. Ollie assumes that the story is fiction, but when her school takes a trip to Misty Valley farm, she can't help but notice the similarities between the two. As she continues to ponder upon it on her way back from the visit, the school bus breaks down and is suddenly shrouded by mist. It doesn't help that the bus driver turns around and says, "Well, best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Unsettled, Ollie decides to pay heed to the bus driver's advice and takes off, but not before she is joined by two other classmates—Coco Zintner and Brian Battersby. Together, they witness the most horrifying events and to save themselves, they do what the book tells them to—they keep to small spaces.

In the beginning, this book reminded me of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane which I didn't enjoy half as much as I enjoyed this one. The writing is wonderful and the characters are precious. Ollie's dad loves to cook, bake and knit—a character that subtly shatters stereotypes. The kids are all so different from one another but when the times get tough, they have each other's back. This book was creepy and fascinating and I can't wait to read Arden's other works!

2. Dead Voices - 4 stars
April 12, 2019
Oh yeah, baby, bring it on! Everyday is a good day to read some spooky, cozy, Halloween kid's book 🎃

Ollie is an 11-year-old girl who recently lost her mom and lives with the her pie-baking, sock-kitting, sweetest dad in the world. She is extremely clever, plays chess like a pro, and reads like an adult. One day, going home from school, she sees a crying woman trying to toss a book in the river. Ollie, being a young bookworm, is horrified by the idea to throw a book away, so takes it from her instead. She starts to read it and, well... the spooky story begins 👻

I picked up this book because I am a huge Arden fan, and since I read The Bear and the Nightingale, I want to read everything she writes. I also found out from recent reads that I quite enjoy middle grade books, sometimes more than young adult. There is just something so nostalgic and reminiscent in them, and, well, they are the epitome of a cozy read for me!

The plot, the mystery, the pace of the book were all really good (even though it became a favourite for me only after hitting the 50% mark), but the things I loved the most about this book are its characters and the way the author made their personalities interact. I think she really wanted to make a point in showing that sometimes people surprise you, and that we shouldn't base our judgment on prejudice. That is why the guy that loves sport isn't dumb - it turns out he can quote Alice in Wonderland by heart -, the girl that is always pretty and well-dressed is actually a free climber, and friendship can blossom even in the most unlikely scenarios.

I also wanted to add that I believe writing a kid's book and managing to scare the reader isn't easy at all: the author has to create the right proportion between what is mildly spooky and something that could seriously bother the child, and also choose the right topics and tropes that work on a child's mind. This one does a very good job on it, and I definitely got R. L. Stine vibes... ☠️

Loved it! will absolutely re-read for Halloween 🍬

BOO! 😈
Profile Image for mimi (taylor’s version).
338 reviews274 followers
March 21, 2022
This review comes from a cynical 20-something girl who has never read children's books even when she was one, so please don't get mad if something I say doesn't sit right for you.

Ollie, Coco and Brian become friends during the worst night of their life, maybe their last one. But they survive, find a way out of that situation, and go back home with all their classmates and their teacher. Also, they solved a mystery and found out that dark presences are real.
Now, my doubts are not about the story itself, but about its development.

Friendship, loss, an adventure, scary stories, plot twists and a touching ending. What do you want more?
But it all happens in two days and a half. I mean, there is barely time to understand the protagonist’s trauma, and the book is over. There is a start and an ending but in between, there should be more. Ollie’s backstory, how the book ends, what is the Smiling Man, how he transform people into scarecrows, where did he go. There is so much not utilized potential.

As a kid, I’d like it. As an adult, it scared me pretty badly - even if, in the end, it's still a children’s story and you don't actually see anything bad happening.
Also, I'm not ashamed to say I cried a little bit at the end. Anyone with a heart would have cried.

3 stars

p.s.: the cover is amazing, whoever drew this is a genius because it's kinda scary but also nice to see and intriguing.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews310 followers
August 7, 2020
“you don’t waste october sunshine. soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow.”

eleven-year-old ollie is not having the best time of her life at school. she gets into fights, her classmates are annoying, and most of all school is keeping her from finishing a thoroughly spooky book she’s gotten her hands on.

but then, when her class goes out to a local farm on a school trip, ollie is forced to face the fact that her scary book might be based on some real, life-threatening events…

it’s been ages since i read a children’s horror book, and let me just get this out of the way because everyone’s been saying it: yes, this indeed reminded me of picking up a goosebumps novel and ending up an utterly terrified nine-year-old with my head stuck under the covers.

i think what instantly struck me as so lovely about this book is its atmospheric prose. autumn in vermont; all the houses decorated with jack-o’-lanterns and apples scattered about? call me cliché, but it was such a fitting environment for a story like this. it transports you to the right mindset immediately.


(yes, reading this was a general nostalgia fest from the 90s for me. the above gif is from hocus pocus, which i was also reminded of despite there being no similar plot elements at all.)

the character work in this was also very well-crafted. there’s a lot of trope subversion as going on, as well as characters going against traditional gender roles. for me, this marked a step up from the usual kid & teen lit stereotypes. the narrative also makes fun of this in a way that’s a nice little wink to the adults reading this.

ollie adler is our main character, who beautifully fills the role as an assertive, nose-in-a-book kid still stricken with grief. the exploration of her personal loss and relationship with her dad, as well as the world around her, felt very true and honest. there’s no sugarcoating here at all, and she makes for a great protagonist who’s very curious and bold.

brian battersby is the school jock, who lots of classmates are crushing on, and the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. the same goes for coco zintner, the new city girl whose emotional outbursts often lead to bullying by the other kids.

we follow ollie as she reluctantly builds friendships with both brian and coco while trying to solve the mystery that lies at the heart of the story. we get glimpses of this whenever ollie reads the book small spaces, which regales the tale of a family living on a nearby farm in the 1800s who made a deal with an entity called the Smiling Man.

it genuinely gets a bit creepy as we see the hints of evil close in on the town and our main trio of kids: crawling mists, mysterious bus drivers, wisps of ghosts, and eerie scarecrows overlooking cornfields.

i will say, though, that i enjoyed the interpersonal relationships and exploration of the characters more than i did the spooky mystery. if this just would’ve been a coming of age story about how to deal with loss and grief, i would not have minded one bit. because the parts where we follow ollie, coco, and brian go up against evil were a bit less engaging than the rest of the book to me.

if i had to compare this book’s level of scariness to anything, i’d probably say it’s reminiscent of how stephen king writes horror. it’s character-focused and driven while tackling very human emotions, and the story has an eerie monster at the center that is a master of manipulation. randall flagg from the stand comes to mind.

and just like with king’s works, i tend to enjoy the character work more than i enjoy the monsters themselves. but luckily, i’m still out there having a jolly (scary?) time reading.

very much recommended for an atmospheric, autumn-y read that instantly transports you back to your childhood.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
2,084 reviews5,051 followers
October 24, 2021
2021 Update: Honestly, my thoughts haven't really changed from the first time that I read this book. It was just as creepy as it was the first go round. Katherine Arden has a way with creating a certain eariness that one wouldn't always expect when reading a middle grade novel. There is a great balance of friendship and self-discovery that empowers Ollie to be able to help her friends. I appreciated it this read as much as I did during my first read. I honestly can't wait to dive into the rest of the books in the series.

Amazing amazing! I absolutely loved this book and finished it in one day! I’ll be a part of a blog tour on Thursday so I’ll make sure this is updated with the review!
Profile Image for Melanie (TBR and Beyond).
513 reviews367 followers
May 5, 2022
"Avoid large places. Keep to small."

Why haven't I read anything sooner by this incredible author? This book was perfection.  It was heartfelt, had great characters and most importantly - was actually spooky! It's the perfect Halloween read, or if you are like me, it's a perfect all-year round read.

Middle-grade horror is probably my favorite for this category.  As much as I love fantasy, I tend to seek out the horror even more in middle-grade.  It's so much stronger than it is in YA currently and it's usually spookier.  Don't ask me why that it is but there are so many horror gems in middle-grade and this is certainly one of them.

Small Spaces is about grief at it's core.  I lost my mother late last year and have been trying to avoid stories that deal with loss of parents, but that seems to be pretty much impossible if you are reading middle-grade or young adults novels.  I knew going in that this story was going to be tackling this sensitive topic and I thought it did it was such grace and respect.  There were times I felt like I was going through the grieving process with the main character, so it was kind of a cathartic experience for me.  If you have lost a loved one recently, just be aware that this topic is very heavily focused on.

The book features three young kids:

Ollie: Our main protagonist. A twelve year old girl, who has isolated herself at school and home, after losing her mother.
Coco: The oddball of the school, is frequently bullied but doesn't seem to let it get her too down.  She is completely comfortable with who she is, even if she can be a bit much at times.
Brian: The cool jock at school, who isn't quite as he appears.

The school takes a field trip to a local farm and it isn't long before some crazy shit starts to go down.  The kids are left stranded and scared in a bus, with the threat that something is coming to get them.  The three main kids set out into the woods on their own to hopefully save themselves (and the others) and get to the bottom of what is going on.

I won't get into too much of the specifics with this story but things get dark, quite dark.  I wouldn't call this story outright terrifying but there is always an looming sense of dread and the atmosphere is very creepy.  This might be too scary for younger children but most children could likely handle this by 8-10 years old, but they might sleep with the light on that night ;)

I highly recommend this book, it's certainly not just a book for children.  This has many elements that adults can enjoy and the writing is outstanding.  I can't wait for the next book, I'm not sure if this is a duology or a series but I'll be first in line to purchase!
Profile Image for Eliza.
596 reviews1,376 followers
October 21, 2018
Actual: 3.5 / 5

This was my first Katherine Arden novel, and it did not disappoint! I love how unique this was and how much I related to Ollie and her love of reading (amongst other things). Reading this made me feel all nostalgic for whatever reason, too — which was great.

For such a short novel, so many things happened. But that’s to be expected from a Children’s book, since it allows their imagination to take over. That being said, it leaves a lot to be desired for someone like me who loves loads of description. I mean, I wish there was more imagery; more development; more answers (I have so many!).

Also, I loved Ollie’s dad, so I wish he was more present in the novel. He’s honestly one of the best father figures I’ve read about. That, or I just loved him to pieces, for whatever reason.

Brian and Coco were cool characters, too. Brian, I liked more, because of how he surprises you by being more fearful than Ollie, and being open about liking reading and hockey; even though that’s “uncool.” Coco, quite honestly, annoyed me. I wonder if that’s what Arden intended? Ahh, I don’t think so.

Overall, I can’t wait to read her more popular series Bear and the Nightingale, I think that's what it's called? But if it’s written with more description and is just as imaginative as this novel, I will definitely love it.
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,727 reviews867 followers
May 31, 2023
#2) Dead Voices ★★★★☆
#3) Dark Waters ★★★★★
#4) Empty Smiles ★★★☆☆

I don’t think I have ever been recommended an adult fantasy as much as Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale but in typical Rachel fashion, I jumped on her newest book instead.

Small Spaces reminded me why I adore middle grade. It had everything I loved to see: a heartfelt friendship, a palpable atmosphere, a twisty, turny plotline, and characters who I came to adore with every fibre of my being.

🎃 Ollie, our protagonist, is slowly working through her grief and depression and the way that Arden tackled these themes without belittling the target audience was admirable.
🎃 Coco has just moved from the city and is the brunt of her classmates’ jokes more often than not. Despite the fact she is almost constantly in tears, she helps Ollie realise that it is better to be in touch with your feelings than pretend they don’t exist.
🎃 Brian, the nerdy jock with a heart of gold. His relationship with the girls warmed my heart. There’s nothing I love more than unlikely friendships.

I may also be completely in love with Ollie’s father. His dad jokes had me cry-laughing like a goddamn emoji.

The atmosphere is so essential to a good horror story and Small Spaces didn’t disappoint. It was chilling. Who knew scarecrows could be so sinister? I will admit, yes, it was a little predictable. The fact I read this in a single afternoon, unable to put it down, speaks for itself. It had an undeniably addictive quality.

Overall? If you are looking for a Halloween read this month, this is not to skip! I highly recommended it; even if middle grade is not your go-to age range, I promise Small Spaces has something for everyone.

Trigger warnings for .

Representation: Ollie (mc) has grief-related depression; Brian (sc) is Jamaican.

BlogTrigger Warning DatabaseStoryGraph
Profile Image for Virginie Roy.
Author 2 books624 followers
October 28, 2019
That's exactly the kind of book I wanted to read in October!

Katherine Arden tells a very interesting and spooky Halloween tale. The autumn atmosphere is really well described by her beautiful writing. Pumpkins, scarecrows, October sun, colored trees, ghosts and cemetary... Nothing is missing! And all this wraps a delightful story of friendship and resilience. A nice and surprising discovery!

5*: Sad to finish it, this book was amazing
4*: Really liked it!
3*: Liked it
2*: Fell asleep a couple of times during my reading... but not entirely boring!
1*: Why did I bother to finish it?!
Profile Image for kath.
79 reviews266 followers
September 24, 2018
It is a confirmed fact that I will read anything Katherine Arden writes.

To be honest, I haven’t read a middle grade horror since I was squished into a school bus seat with a tattered copy of Goosebumps in my backpack. It isn’t a genre I had considered revisiting, not for any particular reason other than moving on to other things. However, when I found out that the author of my favourite trilogy was debuting a middle grade novel, of course I had to give it a try.

In Small Spaces, Arden really shows her versatility as an author after giving us the Winternight trilogy. Rather than medieval Russian fairytale settings, frost demons or magic horses, we have preteens, cellphones, and field trips to haunted farms. There are almost no similarities between her works other than just plain good storytelling, and it is really really good. The pages all but turned by themselves in this delightfully spooky tale of eerie scarecrows and a busload of middle grade kids. I devoured the whole thing in one sitting.

I went into it expecting a scary read (but not TOO scary as to traumatize the kids) and on that account it delivered! I think it will make a bigger impact on its intended age level but can definitely be enjoyed by children and adults alike. But more than just a spooky book, it is about the aftermath of childhood trauma and the grief that takes hold, and about friendship. How Ollie goes from aloof and friendless to gradually accepting her vulnerability and need for her classmates gave me so many feels.

I am now solidly of the opinion that middle grade horror needs a comeback, especially if Katherine Arden is writing them.

~ 4.75 stars

Thank you to the publisher for sending an arc in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,065 reviews1,905 followers
February 4, 2023
"Who is coming?" she asked. "At nightfall."

The white eyes swept her up and down. Then he said, "His people. His servants."

Ollie swallowed. "Who is HE?"

"He has many names. As many names as people have words."

That wasn't helpful. Ollie thought again. "What are his PEOPLE going to do?"

"Take you to him. Bargain complete."
pg. 101

Children's horror. Ollie is prickly and standoffish. She quit both chess team and softball last year. She's rude to people. Why? You'll have to read the book - she's going through some pain. However, she is whip-smart and deadly accurate with rocks - illustrated when she saves a girl being bullied by braining a guy with a well-aimed missile.

That guy, Brian, turns out to be the mensch of the book. I don't care if he's only 12, I'll brook no arguments. Mensch.


It all starts when Ollie goes to her favorite spot to read by the swimming hole after school. To her shock, someone is already standing there. An unhinged woman, holding something in her hand.

"I just have to get rid of this. Put it in the water. And then - " The woman broke off.

Then? What then? The woman held the thing out over the water. Ollie saw that it was a small black book, the size of her spread-out hand.

Her reaction was pure reflex. "You can't throw away a book!" Ollie let go of her bike and jumped forward. Part of her wondered,
Why would you come here to throw a book in the creek? You can donate a book. There were donation boxes all over Evansburg.

"I have to!" snapped the woman, bringing Ollie up short. The woman went on, half to herself, "That's the bargain. Make the arrangements. Then give the book to the water." She gave Ollie a pleading look. "I don't have a choice, you see."

Ollie tried to drag the conversation out of crazy town. "You can donate a book if you don't want it," she said firmly. "Or - or give it to someone. Don't just throw it in the creek."

"I HAVE to," said the woman again.
pg. 14

Ollie ends up stealing the book from the woman. But the woman gets in a parting shot.

"Listen to me, Eleven. I'm going to tell you one thing, because I'm not a bad person. I just didn't have a choice. I'll give you some advice, and you give me the book. She had her hand out, fingers crooked like claws.

Ollie, poised on the edge of flight, said, "Tell me what?" The creek rushed and rippled, but the harsh sounds of the woman's breathing were louder than the water.

"Avoid large places at night," the woman said. "Keep to small."

"Small?" Ollie was torn between wanting to run and wanting to understand. "That's it?"

"Small!" shrieked the woman. "SMALL SPACES! KEEP TO SMALL SPACES OR SEE WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU! JUST SEE!" She burst into wild laughter. The plastic witch sitting on the Brewsters' porch laughed like that. "NOW GIVE ME THAT BOOK!" Her laughter turned into a whistling sob.

Ollie heaved the Schwinn around and fled with it up the trail. The woman's footsteps scraped behind. "Come back!" she panted. "Come back!"

Ollie was already on the main road, her leg thrown over the bike's saddle. She rode home as fast as she could, bent low over her handlebars, hair streaming in the wind, the book lying in her pocket like a secret.
pg. 16

What's in the book? Why is that lady hell-bent on destroying it? Why would she warn Ollie to stay in small spaces?

Very interesting. The book, of which Arden offers us glorious excerpts (I love this kind of stuff), the crazed lady in the woods, the situations Ollie finds herself in... how do they all tie together?


- Horror for kids. I'm always interested.

- Good writing. Notably better than someone like Stine, no offense to Stine. More complex, descriptive, and containing more difficult words and concepts than Stine. For example, look at how the book opens:

October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. 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. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don't waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in a cloud of blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow. But Mr. Easton was teaching fractions and had no sympathy for Olivia's fidgets. pg. 1

I mean, just reading this made me want to pick up one of her adult novels (she's most notably the author of The Bear and the Nightingale).

- A strong, smart heroine. Ollie, even though she is suffering and has a tendency to lash out at other people, has an innate sense of goodness. She's also very intelligent and imaginative. I liked her and her many facets.

- A good and interesting plot. Features but does not deal exclusively in these themes:

I thought these made for a great combination.

Ollie put her oatmeal on the kitchen island and went to pour herself some coffee.

"You're too young for coffee," said her dad, not looking up. He was sitting at the kitchen table and scrolling through the news.

"I'm not too young to go out in the rain and catch pneumonia," said Ollie, pouring herself a cup anyway and stirring in sugar.
pg. 37

Other horror for children includes The Witches of Worm which I think is better written than this, but it's also kind of on a different plane. Snyder's aims aren't Arden's aims. I could say the same thing for Wait Till Helen Comes, another classic. That's more in lines with Arden's aims here.

Is this going to be on the level of those books in my mind? I don't think so. But it was very good.

TL;DR Smarter, higher-level horror for someone who might have loved Goosebumps at a younger age. I would say Grades 4-6, your mileage may vary. I know a lot of children who love creepy books and I would definitely recommend this to them, I will be recommending it a lot IRL. The writing is really no slouch for children's fiction. I mean, it's no The Secret Garden but it's pretty good. I will look forward to continuing the series and also picking up some of Arden's adult novels.


- It It by Stephen King by Stephen King

- The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight (Goosebumps, #20) by R.L. Stine by R.L. Stine

Profile Image for samantha  Bookworm-on-rainydays.
278 reviews118 followers
October 29, 2018
So I wanted something to read for Halloween that wasn't blooding or worst and found this had just come out and it looked fun, I went in thinking it would be like The Halloween tree, but found it was pretty creepy mostly because I can't stand scarecrows. But I could see anyone of any age enjoy this like I did if you want something a little spooky to read with no blood or guts.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,213 followers
February 18, 2020
4.0 Stars
Honestly, I was surprised just so much I loved this one. Despite being written for a middle grade audience, this one definitely has some all ages appeal. I really liked the main character who was a smart bookworm. The monsters were decently creepy and I just found the whole story really fun to read. I look forward to reading this book with my own son one day.
Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,865 reviews2,240 followers
October 23, 2018
3 stars

A creepy little book with a strange story. I liked it just fine, but it didn't suck me in at all and I found myself skimming at the end. I thought I would find it scary, but after binging the haunting of hill house all weekend I think the scare-o-meter had zero effect on me.

I am definitely interested in trying Arden's adult novels, maybe I will connect with those more.

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Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,678 followers
May 6, 2021
Supa supa creepy!

I couldn't stop listening once I started, and I normally don't like things like, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! But this was just creepy enough, and so cleverly done! A mystery, a story about friendship, and grief, with a strange old book, baking, knitting, and a school field trip gone wrong? LOVE IT.
Profile Image for Puck.
670 reviews303 followers
October 5, 2019
“When the mist rises, and the Smiling Man comes walking, you must avoid large places at night. Keep to small.”

What a wonderful spooky book to start October with! 🎃 Sure, it’s middle-grade, but talented authors like Katherine Arden write so atmospheric and compelling, anyone will get chills from The Smiling Man.

If you have read Arden’s Winternight Trilogy (and you should), you know that she excels in writing beautiful, vivid settings. The Misty Valley, the bus stranded in a dark forest, the dizzying corn maze: they all felt so real.
Not only that, Arden writes horror just as well as fantasy: the silently moving scarecrows freaked me out, and the scene wherein you learn what happened to the stolen Six Graders is terrifying!

"Wherever you go in this big, gorgeous, hideous world, there is a ghost story waiting for you."

However, admit the grabbing scarecrows, lonely ghosts, and clocks counting down, grief is at the core of this novel. Our main girl Olivia “Ollie” has suffered a heavy loss, and while she wishes everyone would leave her alone, I was so happy to see her slowly come out of her shell.
Her friends Brian and Coco were so brave, and I can’t wait to see these three kids conquer more spirits in the next book.

4 stars for this haunting story (with a touch of grief). Perfect for fans of Over the Garden Wall and (light) ghost stories, and for children around 9-12 years old.
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