“You might get to know characters in books, Ollie thought, but getting to know a human was an entirely different thing.”
Small Spaces is Katherine Arden’s debut middle grade novel and I loved it so very much friends. Many of you know that The Bear and the Nightingale is one of my favorite books of all-time, and even though these stories are nothing like one another, the beautiful writing, amazing characters, and important themes shine through. I went into this expecting a fun and spooky read (which it was), but what I also got was such a beautiful love letter to grief, depression, and trying to live in a world that has taken away someone who you feel you cannot live without.
In a small town in Vermont, our main character is riding her bike home from school one fall afternoon, when she notices a woman attempting to throw an old book in the water. Ollie, being the book lover that she is, feels obliged to stop and see what’s going on.
➽ Olivia Adler – But she mostly goes by Ollie. A twelve-year-old, sixth grader, who loves to read and is trying to live her life while grieving a terrible loss. And the only way she truly knows how to cope is the escapism of books. (Also, there is a brief mention of her mom having brown skin, but I am not 100% sure of Ollie’s race.)
➽ Coco Zintner – The tiniest child in Ollie’s class. She has a somewhat famous mother and has recently moved to the school. But her innocence and eccentricities constantly make her a target for bullying.
➽ Brian Battersby – Jamaican and your typical middle school jock, who Ollie has known her entire life. And Ollie learns very quickly that you should not stereotype people, because they might surprise you.
And their paths truly cross unexpectedly once Olivia begins to read the book that was almost abandoned. She learns of a farm, and a girl, and two brothers, and a missing persons case that was never solved. And now Ollie and her friends are going on a field trip to a farm that is very reminiscent of the story she has been reading about.
And yes, friends, this is a spooky book. I mean, it’s nothing too scary or too much, but Katherine Arden for sure paints an eerie atmosphere and some extremely creepy monster like characters. And I truly think this will make the perfect Halloween read this year, for so many ages, but this book was also so much more than that.
This is a book about healing and friendship and learning to let go while simultaneously never letting go. This book is about escapism through books and how books carry some of the most powerful healing magic imaginable. And this is a book about healing at your own pace and in your own time.
“Maybe, she kept thinking, when she came back from one of those other worlds, when she woke up from book dreaming, she would come back to a world where […] wasn’t dead.”
Ollie is really dealing with some very serious depression and grief throughout this book. Like how we give up things that make us happy, just because those things remind you of the person who made you happiest. How sometimes the world feels too heavy, too loud, too empty, all because it’s missing someone who was your entire world. Yet, this is also a love letter to how the ones we lose will never truly be lost; they will always remain with us. Always.
Overall, I loved this book more than words. I wasn’t expecting it to make me feel everything that it did, and when I closed the book it truly felt like a cathartic experience. I recommend this book to any and every person, but especially during the autumnal season. I read this in a single sitting, I never once wanted to put it down, and I fell so deeply in love with it.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Content and trigger warnings for minor bullying, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, and depression depiction.