A girl steals a book and is swept up in its eerie origins.
It’s October in East Evansburg, Vermont, and Olivia “Ollie” Adler finds herself distracted from her sixth-grade lessons. She’s reeling from the pain of her mother’s absence, but she’d rather bottle it up than talk about it. Instead, Ollie escapes into books and reads them at her secret swimming hole. One day, a strange woman attempts to cast a book titled Small Spaces into the water. Ollie steals the book and is given a warning: “Avoid large places at night.…Keep to small.” Soon she is wrapped up in the book’s haunting story of loss and a deal made with a being known as “the smiling man.” A class field trip to Misty Valley Farm reveals the truth behind Small Spaces. Can Ollie save her classmates from the smiling man? Or will she, too, succumb to the lure of one of his bargains? The characters are sharply drawn, particularly Ollie and her quirky, bighearted father; one secondary character, black, Jamaican-born Brian, stands out in their mostly white community. The slow reveal of Ollie’s trauma is achingly poignant (her mother’s death isn’t confirmed until nearly halfway through the book). Some elements seem less plausible than others (her teacher leaving kids alone with a creepy bus driver, for instance), but novelist for adults Arden’s (The Bear and the Nightingale, 2017) middle-grade debut is atmospheric horror at its best.
Chillingly tender. (Horror. 8-13)