Small Spaces

Small Spaces

by Katherine Arden


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525515029
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 23,598
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

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 enrollment 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.

Read an Excerpt

She pedaled hard past the hay bales in the roundabout on Main Street, turned onto Daisy Lane and raced past the clapboard houses, where jack-o’-lanterns grinned on every front porch. She aimed her bike to knock down a rotting gray rubber hand groping up out of the earth in the Steiners’ yard, turned again at Johnson Hill and climbed panting up the steep dirt road.

No one came after her. Well, why would they, Ollie thought. She was Off School Property.

Ollie let her bike coast down the other side of Johnson Hill. was good to be alone in the warm sunshine. The river ran silver to her right, chattering over rocks. The fire-colored trees shook their leaves down around her. It wasn’t hot, exactly—but warm for October. Just cool enough for jeans, but the sun was warm when you tilted your face to it.

The swimming hole was Ollie’s favorite place. Not far from her house, it had a secret spot on a rock half-hidden by a waterfall. That spot was Ollie’s, especially on fall days. After mid-September, she was the only one there. People didn’t go to swimming holes once the weather turned chilly.
Other than her homework, Ollie was carrying Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, a broken-spined paperback that she’d dug out of her dad’s bookshelves. She mostly liked it. Peter Blood outsmarted everyone, which was a feature she liked in heroes, although she wished Peter were a girl, or the villain were a girl, or someone in the book besides his boat and his girlfriend (both named Arabella) were a girl. But at least the book had romance and high seas adventures and other absolutely not Evansburg things. Ollie liked that. Reading it meant going to a new place where she wasn’t Olivia Adler at all.

Ollie braked her bike. The ground by the road was carpeted with scarlet leaves; sugar maples start losing their leaves before other trees. Ollie kept a running list in her head of sugar maples in Evansburg that didn’t belong to anyone. When the sap ran, she and her mom would—

Nope. No, they wouldn’t. They could buy maple syrup.

The road that ran beside the swimming hole looked like any other stretch of road. A person just driving by wouldn’t know the swimming hole was there. But, if you knew just where to look, a skinny dirt trail went from the road to the water. Ollie walked her bike down the trail. The trees seemed to close in around her. Above was a white-railed bridge. Below, the stream paused in its trip down the mountain. It spread out, grew deep and quiet enough for swimming. There was a cliff for jumping and plenty of hiding places for one girl and her book. Ollie hurried. She was eager go and read by the water and be alone.

The trees ended suddenly, and Ollie was standing on the bank of a cheerful brown swimming hole.
But, to her surprise, there was someone already there.

A slender woman, wearing jeans and flannel, stood at the edge of the water. Her jeans were nice, her flannel soft, but her boots were muddy and worn, the leather cracking across one heel.
The woman was sobbing.

Maybe Ollie’s foot scuffed a rock, because the woman jerked upright and whirled around. Ollie gulped. The woman was pretty, with amber-honey hair. But she had circles under her eyes like purple thumbprints. Streaks of mascara had run down her face, like she’d been crying for awhile.

“Hello,” The woman said, trying to smile. “You surprised me.” Her eyes looked—stretched—the way a dog looks, hiding under the bed during a thunderstorm. Her white-knuckled hands gripped a small, dark thing.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Ollie said cautiously.

Why are you crying? she wanted to ask. But it seemed impolite to ask that question to a grown-up, even if her face was streaked with the runoff from her tears.

The woman didn’t reply; she darted a glance to the rocky path by the creek, then back to the water. Like she was looking out for something. Or someone.

Ollie felt a chill creep down her spine. She said, “Are you okay?”

“Of course.” The woman tried to smile again. Fail. The wind rustled the leaves. Ollie glanced behind her. Nothing.

“I’m fine,” repeated the woman. She turned the dark thing over in her hands. Then she said, in a rush, “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, with a cloth cover, its pages stained deep yellow.

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 river? 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 river.”

“I have to,” said the woman again.

“Have to drop a book in the river?”

“Before tomorrow,” said the woman. Almost to herself, she whispered, “Tomorrow’s the day.”

Ollie was nearly within arm’s reach now. The woman smelled sour—frightened. Ollie, completely at sea, decided to ignore the stranger elements of the conversation. Later, she would wish she hadn’t. “If you don’t want that book, I’ll take it,” said Ollie. “I like books.”

The woman shook her head. “He said water. Upstream. Where Lethe Creek runs out of the mountain. I’m here. I’m doing it!” She shrieked the last sentence as though someone besides Ollie was listening. Ollie had to stop herself from looking behind her again.

“Why?” she asked. Little mouse feet crept up her spine.

“Who knows?” the woman whispered. “Just his game, maybe. He enjoys what he does, you know, and that is why he’s always smiling—” She smiled too, a joyless pumpkin-head grin.

Ollie nearly yelped. But instead, her hand darted up and she snatched the book. It felt old under her fingers, gritty with dust. Surprised at her own daring, Ollie hurriedly backed up.

The woman’s face turned red. “Give that back!” A glob of spit hit Ollie in the cheek.

“I don’t think so,” said Ollie. “You don’t want it anyway.” She was backing toward her bike, half expecting the woman to fling herself forward.

The woman was staring at Ollie as if really seeing her for the first time. “Why—?” A horrified understanding dawned on her face that Ollie didn’t understand. “How old are you?”

Ollie was still backing toward her bike. “Twelve,” she answered, by reflex. Almost there . . .

“Twelve?” the woman breathed. “Twelve. Of course, twelve.” Ollie couldn’t tell if the woman were giggling or crying. Maybe both. “Its his kind of joke—” She broke off, leaned forward to whisper. “Listen to me, Twelve. 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 stream rushed and rippled, but the harsh sounds of the woman breathing were louder than the water.

“Avoid large places at night,” the woman breathed. “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 animatronic witch sitting outside the Brewsters’ next to a cauldron of dry ice laughed like that. “Now give me that book!” Her laughter turned into a whistling, shrieking sob; her hands reached out, snatching.

Ollie heaved the Schwinn around and fled with it up the trail from the creek. 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.

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Small Spaces 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Book_and_recipe_Examiner More than 1 year ago
Olivia Adler is in the sixth grade. Her dad is a fantastic baker, and her mom, well...she was very adventurous. Olivia was too, when her mom was still alive. Now she only wants to read books and hang out at home, a brightly colored place she calls the Egg. But while passing the river after a rough day at school when she defended a girl being bullied, Olivia comes across a weeping woman about to throw a small black book into the river. She stops the woman, snatches the book, and pedals home as fast as she can on her bike. The book turns out to be a diary of a woman who died over a hundred years ago, Beth Webster. She wrote down her tragedy as a warning to others: There once were two brothers who fought over a girl. One brother died, and because of his mother’s broken heart, the living brother made a deal with the “smiling man” to bring his deceased brother back. The mysterious woman by the river calls out a final warning to the departing Olivia: “when the mist rises, avoid large places at night. Keep to small.” It is up to Olivia to solve the mystery and save the lives of her friends from the terrifying, powerful smiling man. Small Spaces is a riveting, frightening—even for adults—story about the ancient battle between good versus evil, and where the true source of power lies. For Discussion Questions, a themed recipe of Apple Pie Bites with Maple Oat Crumble, or a list of similar books, visit:
Caroles_Random_Life 4 months ago
I enjoyed this middle-grade book quite a lot. After finishing The Winter of the Witch, I was in a bit of book hangover so I decided to see what else Katherine Arden has written because I needed more of her writing just as soon as possible. When I found out that she had recently published a middle-grade novel, I was really quite eager to get my hands on it so I put in a request at my local library and waited for my turn with the book. I am so glad that I decided to check this book out. I liked this book as an adult but I am pretty sure that as a child I would have absolutely loved it. I found this book to be a really quick read, reading it in its entirety on a single morning. I don't think that I put it down even once which says a whole lot about the book. The writing had a really wonderful flow as I would expect from this author. Ollie is a rather spunky girl who has been through a whole lot. When she sees a woman throwing a book into the water, she feels like she needs to save it so she does. Her class takes a field trip to a local farm the next day where she runs into the same woman once again. That is when things really start to get strange. I loved the atmosphere in this story. This is a really spooky story which could at times be rather intense. As the story progressed, we learned more about what Ollie has been through and I fell in love with her character. She really was a very brave girl. Two of her friends are with her and I really liked seeing how they worked together and grew close over the course of the story. I would recommend this book to fans of middle-grade stories. This book featured a wonderful group of characters making their way through a difficult and often spooky situation. I loved how hopeful the book's ending was and enjoyed some of the more touching moments along the way. I definitely plan to read more of this series once it is available.
CaptainsQuarters More than 1 year ago
Ahoy there me mateys! Ever since I read the bear and the nightingale, I have been in love with this author’s writing. So while waiting for book 3 of that trilogy, I thought I would give her middle-grade novel a whirl because I don’t put age limits on reading. And this was a fun one. This story follows Ollie who finds solace in being alone and reading in order to escape the pain of losing her mother. Then one cold day she goes to her favorite spot by the creek to find someone has gotten there first! An older woman is there raving about a book and is preparing to toss it into the water. But Ollie can’t let a book be destroyed and so she grabs it and runs. Curious about the book, she begins to read what appears to be a journal and becomes completely engrossed. But suddenly weird things are happening in her town that seem to mirror that of the book. Can Ollie solve the mystery before bad things happen to everyone around her? I absolutely adored Ollie and her schoolmates Coco and Brian! I loved watching their relationships and beliefs about one another change because they are thrown together in their unusual situation. I also thought this was a poignant portrayal of loss and depression – both for Ollie and her dad. Ollie uses books to help her with her grief. It shows how two people can love each other and yet grown distance because of pain. I also loved her dad for his baking, paint choices, and silly jokes. But the book does have its creepy moments with ghosts, getting lost, and an evil being. Oh and the scarecrows. I have never been one to think scarecrows were anything less than harmless. But I may have to rethink that sentiment and look over me shoulder whenever in a corn field. Eek! I think this be a delightful book with wonderful themes and lessons. Go get a copy. That’s an order. Arrr!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I waited forever for it to become available and bought it almost as soon as it came out. I finished it in about a day! The storyline is amazing, I could NOT put it down! :)
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
This was really good! With a broken-down bus, scarecrows, ghosts and a mysterious book, I thought this book had an excellent storyline connecting the present with the past. Since the synopsis is long and detailed, I won’t go into the whole story. I found myself flipping pages as Ollie begins reading from the book, Small Spaces, that she obtained from the lady at the river. As she reads about the cunning deal that was arranged with the Smiling Man, it was as if I was reading a fairy tale. Later, as her classmates’ head out for their field trip, conversation begins about the farm’s history. Their destination today is a farm that is said to be haunted. As they describe the details of this haunting, my excitement raced as these specifics sound similar to the book that Ollie was reading. Is their bus headed to a haunted farm that is connected to the Smiling Man? This book is labeled as a middle school read but I feel that some mature elementary school students would enjoy getting their hands on it. It’s not graphic, just creepy and spooky, it’s a haunting read.
MaleehaS More than 1 year ago
What a fun and spooky ride! The perfect fall read for middle grade (and adult) readers. I loved all of the characters with their realistic, heartfelt, and humorous interactions. Arden also did a wonderful job of incorporating dealing with death and solving a centuries-old legend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love creepy adventures this is for you. Our heroine Ollie is smart, brave, and broken. Her deep love of books and family gives the story a warmth that is missing in most creepy ghost stories. Katherine Arden has crafted another beautiful tale that i will reread over and over.