Middle Grade Monday is a feature on The Contented Reader where I review and highlight current or upcoming books in the middle grade genre.

TITLE: Small Spaces

AUTHOR: Katherine Arden

Rating: ★★★☆☆

PAGES: 218

PUBLISHER: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers


GENRE(S): Fantasy, Mystery

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden - The Contented ReaderBestselling 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.


I love finding great new middle grade reads and this book is no exception!

Small Spaces follows twelve-year old Ollie after she discovers a book called Small Spaces. The book tells the story of a family living on a farm and the scary, mysterious events that happen after meeting “the smiling man.” Before long, Ollie experiences a chilling adventure after a school trip to a farm that resembles the events of Small Spaces.

Ollie is such a great main character. She’s a unique sixth grader who prefers to keep to herself. Yet her desire to stand up and protect others is incredible. This desire ultimately leads her to Brian and Coco – both of which become amazing friends. Ollie’s past certainly play a part in this book but I think it’s a great touch to the story.

This book is certainly creepy! I totally think that if I read this book as a sixth grader, it would have really freaked me out. I think it’s super atmospheric and Arden does a wonderful job at creating a scary tale. This book really creeps you out because of the smiling man, the bus driver, the scarecrows and the ghosts! It totally gives me Stranger Things vibes because of the kids teaming up to defeat and overcome a bad situation!

My only complaint about this book is probably because I’m an older reader. I just wanted more from it. It’s a relatively short book and yet it took me a couple days to complete it. I think maybe this is why it really would be an amazing book for young readers. I certainly look forward to introducing the series to my students in the future!

Overall, Small Spaces is a really great, chilling read. It’s atmospheric, scary and is reminiscent of spooky ghost stories told by a fire. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Dead Voices soon!

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

Favourite Quote

About The Author

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrolment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

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Do you like Katherine Arden? Have you read Small Spaces? Do you like creepy, middle grade reads?

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden - The Contented Reader

Victoria @ The Contented Reader

Victoria @ The Contented Reader

Avid reader and tea drinker. I read and review young adult books on my blog, The Contented Reader!


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