Thursday, September 27, 2018

Small Spaces

Arden, Catherine. Small Spaces
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus
September 25th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young

Ollie has a fantastically supportive father (who is also a really good cook), but she is not happy. She's quit chess club, doesn't want to talk to her friends, and counts the minutes until school is over. When she is out walking, she meets a frantic woman who attempts to throw a book into the water. Appalled by this, Ollie takes the book and runs home. When she starts to read it, it turns out to be a diary kept by the ancestor of the woman who owns a local farm that makes its money by giving tours and "farm experiences". Her class visits there, and Ollie is a bit unnerved by everything. When the students are on their way home, the bus stops, and their teacher goes back to the farm. Ollie's watch, which was her mother's and doesn't really work, starts giving her warnings. After a creepy conversation with the unnerving bus driver, she decides to leave the bus and head off into the woods. She takes Brian, a star hockey player, and Coco, a city girl she finds somewhat annoying. When darkness falls, the multiplicity of scarecrows arrayed in the fields come to life and come after the children. Using the warning from the book she stole to "stay in small spaces", the children ride out a terrifying night in a cave. When the coast is clear, they continue on their journey, coming across other horrific characters and having to spend another harrowing night in a hay loft. They work through the mystery of the family drama that occurred in the past, see their classmates turned into scarecrows, and have to band together in order to survive.
Strengths: This certainly had some good turns of phrase, was well-paced, and had a good creepy back story. The killer scarecrows are the big draw here, and they are very convincingly done. There need to be more middle grade horror novels that start with stranded school buses. Or ice cream trucks that wander neighborhoods in November. Small Spaces was definitely a scary tour de force.
Weaknesses: The back story, and the reason for the killer scarecrows, was a bit confusing. I had to really think it through, which makes me wonder if some of my readers will have trouble following it.
What I really think: Could definitely have done without the cryptic descriptions of Ollie's coping with her mother's death; she was not a likeable character to me, and I might have liked her more if I could have sympathized with her. However, this had awesome killer scarecrows with rakes for hands, AND an entire school bus of children who were attacked and made into horrible monsters who then stalked the three who escaped, so I'll have to buy it.

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