Hello Again Blogging World!
Iseult: Well hullo! Smiling horror writer, Iseult, here to offer you the deal of a lifetime. Only three more days to avail of the low low launch price of 99c for my horror novel, 7 Days in Hell.
Jonny : And this is Jonny, your scarecrow-phobic lover of all things creepy!
This week we did a buddy read of Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (middle grade/horror).
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.
Alright, so let’s get right into our buddy read! We’ve prepared some questions that we’ll both answer, and we hope you enjoy these as much as we did!
1. There’s plenty of creepy imagery in this middle-grade book. Was there anything in particular that stuck out to you as scary? Why?
Iseult: Scarecrows. Ugh. What is it that makes them so creepy? Is it their fake humanity? Their takes for hands, ripping into your flesh and pulling out your intestines like a coil of sausages? (Of course, that didn’t happen in this book, it’s middle grade!)
I love deals with the devil, and the smiling man really creeped me out. The disappearances of all those people was chilling too. There is something about the unexplained that is so frightening. Anything could have happened to them. You never know.
Jonny: The thing that creeped me out the most was the scarecrows too. I’ve never seen a creepy-looking scarecrow in real life, but ever since watching Jeepers Creepers they have kind of terrified me.
So yeah, when there was even the slightest mention of creepy scarecrows I felt a little twinge of fear echo through me. I guess film has forever ruined scarecrows for me.
2. This book centers upon Ollie coming to terms with a recent loss in her family and growing up amidst all the creepy stuff happening around her. Could you relate to her character and the struggles she went through?
Iseult: I found Ollie extremely relatable. She is struggling with grief, but depression comes from many sources, and I thought the author handled it realistically and sensitively with Ollie There are no quick fixes, but there is hope. I found this aspect of the story gave the book more depth, and I enjoyed it more because of it.
Jonny: Oh, most definitely. I felt so in tune with Ollie and how she felt about everything. I was a smart, opinionated kid who was good at math as well, so it was almost like looking at another version of me through this book.
As for her loss, I thought it felt very real. I mean, how do you replace your mom and all the good memories? Ollie does so by immersing herself in fiction and daydreams, which is completely understandable.
My parents went through a divorce when I was a kid, so I could relate to the immense sense of loss despite not having had a parent pass on.
Iseult: Oh Jonny, hugs.
3. One of the themes we encounter is the age-old ‘deal with the devil’. If you were in a situation where you could have whatever you wanted from a mysterious benefactor, would you make the plunge?
Iseult: I love these kind of stories. They always fascinate me, and you can’t help but wonder how you would react in this situation. In real life, devils may not come out of the most wearing black, but we all face countless situations where we can get what we want if we only stay quiet, or compromise our morals, or betray the welfare of someone else.
I like to think that I would refuse. The is an English author who grew up in India called MM Kaye. Her most famous book is a sweeping colonial saga called The Far Pavillions. I don’t like her fiction, but I love the three volumes of her autobiography, and wish she had lived long enough to write the fourth. Her father was an important official in India, and at one time got his hands on a document detailing all the officials and how much you needed to bribe them with. The list went from relatively small items to the men who required the most expensive and rare items to get them on side. MM’s father wasn’t on the list. He was priceless and couldn’t be bought.
I want to be priceless. I want to say no deal to the temptor, you have no power over me. I’m afraid I’d probably cave much too easily in reality.
Jonny: Ehh, I’m pretty leery of shady-seeming deals, so I would like to say I would resist, but if a generous benefactor offered me a private home out in the country with tons of books, how would I be able to say no? That would be a dream come true.
4. There are several literary and mythical allusions in the book, including the story of Persephone and Hades, and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. How did this strengthen, or indeed weaken, the tale?
Iseult: I loved the mention of the Greek myths. They immediately conjured up a whole lot of images and feelings, by association, and seemed to make what the characters were going through all that more serious and ancient. By likening their ordeals to myths, it gave me the impression of how great Ollie’s fight was against her captor.
Jonny: I also enjoyed the mythical allusions. In middle school, mythology was my favorite class I took (sixth grade actually). Seeing it referenced anywhere always gives me a strong sense of imagery, and it touched on valid concerns that the characters had in that section of the book. It definitely strengthened the tale.
5. When the bus breaks down, Ollie has to make an important decision on whether she stays with her class or goes it alone into the woods. Would you have stayed on the bus or followed her?
Iseult:Give me a book and a light to read by, and they’d probably have to pry me out of the bus with crowbars when it got back to the depot. However, I do like to be different, so I could see myself following Ollie off the bus. If I’d access to the information that she did, no power on earth could have kept me in that vehicle.
Jonny: Haha, Iseult!
Given that I’m not Ollie herself, I would’ve listened to the concern and rationality in her argument and went with her. I’m not a big fan of public transit anyways, and being stuck on a bus sounds like the ninth dimension of hell to me, so it wouldn’t take much.
6. Would you rescue a book from a crazy woman who was about to throw it into a river, like Ollie did in Small Spaces?
Iseult: When I was Ollie’s age, I thought books were practically scared, and the thought of damaging them or destroying them in anyway appalled me. I would have saved the book no question.
These days, while I still shiver at the thought of destroying books (I have saved books from dumpsters because I couldn’t bear the sight of them thrown away when they could have been rehomed), I realize that destroying the physical copy of a book isn’t the same as destroying the ideas it contains. However, I would still save the book, because throwing books into rivers is littering.
Jonny: When I was a kid, I hadn’t really formed an opinion on books. Yes, if you threw away my Animorphs or Goosebumps I’d probably start throwing rocks at you, but if some crazy lady was gonna throw a book into a river I would probably be creeped out and leave her be.
However, these days I would probably shout at the woman for her poor sense of judgment and demand she hand the book over, while keeping a six-foot distance of course. Don’t make me kick your booty, crazy lady!
This was great fun, as always, Jonny. I loved your questions and answers. I look forward to our next buddy read. I can’t believe Small Spaces was our fourth!
Check out our other buddy reads here:
If you would like to join me in a buddy read, or other post collaboration, comment below or send me an email through my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.