“Small Spaces” is Katherine Arden’s first middle-grades endeavor, and her first book outside of her “Winternight” trilogy (which I recommend too, but that series is not geared toward middle grades).
Arden is an incredibly talented young author, and one who writes characters exceedingly well. Her ability to give you the same clear insight into her protagonist’s mind as well as her side characters is almost unparalleled, especially for someone writing for the middle grades with this novel.
Make no mistake, “Small Spaces” is a spooky book. If it reminds me of anything, it reminds me of Neil Gaiman, particularly when he’s writing for middle-grades readers, like in his novels “Coraline” and “The Graveyard Book.”
“Small Spaces” is creepy, emotional and amazingly written. This is a ghost story, and not a ghost story. It’s the haunted, sinister tale of an 11-year-old girl’s grief. It starts off with a young girl, Ollie, who is dealing with the loss of her mother. She has buried herself in books instead of coming to terms with the tragedy, and in the course of her grief, has pulled away from her adoring father and her friends.
Ollie begrudgingly joins a class field trip, where things quickly go awry — especially considering she seems to be one of the few to notice how wrong everything feels and how strange the adults are acting.
Ultimately, this story is about overcoming grief, how to make friends when you’re lost — both physically and emotionally — with spookiness sprinkled on top for good measure. I would not recommend this book for the younger who are faint of heart, as it deals with heavy topics and does pack a surprisingly creepy punch.
This is the first book in a series that Arden will be publishing featuring these characters, and I for one am looking forward to it. Coming from a not-so-unbiased point of view as a fan of Katherine Arden, I will read anything that she publishes, middle grades or not.
There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis that sums up my feelings on children’s books quite nicely: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”