Small Spaces and Dead Voices by Katherine Arden: Book Reviews

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Small Spaces by Katherine Arden Book Cover
Title: Small Spaces and Dead Voices
Series Number: 1
Content Warning: Loss of a parent prior to the book's beginning

Synopsis from GoodReads:

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.”

My Review:

Let’s just take a minute to admire these two covers first, shall we? So spooky. So perfect!

As I was getting ready to review Dead Voices, I realized that I’ve never reviewed Small Spaces. I decided to do a vague twofer.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are great characters. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. They complement each other well. They’re good kids but they aren’t unbelievably good–they sometimes tease a bit too much or snap at each other. Apologies always follow, making this a friendship that I enjoy reading about.

The story of each book was creepy enough to satisfy me, even as an adult reader! I don’t recall anything particularly graphic but there’s definitely an unsettling atmosphere, some spooky imagery, and some inexplicable occurrences to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. I think most older middle grade readers who like to be spooked will be okay with this. Sensitive readers might want to steer clear.

Ollie’s mom passed away about a year before the beginning of the first book. She’s still dealing with her grief in both books. But she’s a strong young lady and she’s coping as well as can be expected.

Middle grade and young adult books almost require that parents be absent for some reason. I sometimes feel that authors take the easy path of uninterested/uncaring parents a little too often. But Arden avoided that in both books. Ollie’s dad in particular is absolutely there for her and invested in her life. Don’t get me wrong–the young friends still end up in trouble and on their own but there are magical reasons for that. When the parents can be there for their kids, they are there for them. Period.

Renee Dorian’s narration of Dead Voices (I read Small Spaces on my Kindle) was good. I enjoyed her voice and pacing but she occasionally threw in an odd pause in the middle of a sentence or phrase that made my brain sort of stutter. I’d listen to her read other books though.

If you’re looking for a middle grade read for spooky season, I highly recommend this series!

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  1. Great reviews! I loved these stories, and I enjoyed the third one (Dark Waters) as well. I love that the scary/traumatic events in the characters past—including the events of the past books—aren’t ignored as the series goes on. They’re growing and healing, but the series shows that it takes time and I LOVE that.

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