Confession: I am a Youth Services Library Assistant, and I do not (typically) enjoy reading elementary and middle grade fiction. I reread my favorites, and introduce them to my kids, but it is quite difficult of my heart to leach on to most books of the genre. I read “Small Spaces” as a suggested project during quarantine, and I must thank Miss Carrie for it.
First line: October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples.
Summary: Olivia Adler escapes the world she can no longer love through her books. After an eventful day at school, the eleven year-old pedals her bike to her favorite spot. There she finds a woman crying; worse yet, the woman is throwing an innocent book into the river! Olivia rescues the book and becomes encapsulated in the mystery it presents. When mystery finds its way into her world looking much like the mystery of her novel, she has to choose her direction carefully.
Highlights: The first line, while beautiful, worried me the novel would be an attempt at a literary award which forgets the plot for the sake of its own beauty. Luckily, I was let down. The writing remains beautiful throughout the novel. The plot does not suffer for its beauty—thank goodness.
One of the first rules a writer learns is “Show, don’t tell”. Arden presents this skill artfully in the example of Olivia’s mother. To my recollection, the words “die”, “death”, or “dead” are never used in conjunction with Olivia’s mother. Her absence is felt like a hole in the main characters heart, ever present and without words.
The characters who join Olivia in her quest, purposeful or not, are also well developed. Each character gets a chance to surprise the reader. All in all, I thoroughly recommend this book to any reader, big or small.
Lowlights: As some parts of this story are quite dark, it is not suitable for all audiences. This is targeted toward elementary and middle grade readers, so be certain of their capability to read “creepy stories” before you put this book in their hands.
FYI: This is the first story in a series! It is a great stand-alone, but I look forward to joining Ollie for another mystery soon.
Chelsea–Youth Services Librarian Assistant
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