This is a Series Review for all the Small Spaces books! There will be NO spoilers in the individual Reviews. However, if you haven’t read past a certain book, better not check out the review of the next installment.
CW’s: Past Loss of a Loved One & Grief, Kidnapping, Bullying, Horror Themes
Representation 🌷 Jamaican-American MC
Small Spaces (#1) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Published: September 25th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Read Counter: 3 times 🔁
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.”
“You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to snow.”
➽ The story follows bookworm Olivia and her team of unlikely friends through a creepy adventure! I could easily relate to Olivia’s love for books and preference to spend time with herself. She’s a young girl struggling with grief, who might come across as unfriendly and blunt at times, but her deep pain was so well portrayed. It made her an interesting heroine, someone who could appear unlikable, but also someone who has a good heart. Olivia is pushing down a lot of her hurt, trying not to think about her loss and instead of isolating herself from anyone trying to show her pity. I loved seeing how this intense situation at the farm pushed her outside her shell and actually had her making friends with her unlikely companions. Brian is a popular jock in her class, who is however more than he seems. He’s genuinely nice and caring, likes reading, and isn’t the jerk that Ollie thought him to be. Coco is the new girl at school and is bullied because she appears ‘weird’ to the other kids and is more eccentric at times. She’s feeling things intensely which is why she often cries. However, that shouldn’t be seen as a weakness as Coco’s caring makes her strong. I loved how the three became a team really quickly and discovered that their first assumptions about each other were wrong 🥰
➽ The atmosphere and spookiness were SO good here!! The author really knows how to write a compelling book with good tension. The autumn vibes of the book were already great, but when we get to the farm setting things really take off. I loved the coziness of visiting a farm in autumn and having a day trip with the class, but also the underlying current of creepiness and the feeling that something dark was coming. The atmosphere quickly delves into the spooky territory with the characters fighting to stay away from the things hunting them. The dread and the feeling of being hunted were conveyed so well by the author, I really felt like I was there with the characters trying to escape scary scarecrows. The cover alone perfectly shows the vibe this book gives off: dark and ominous. I’m also a scaredy-cat so I was actually scared when Olivia gets into trouble and the book delves more into horror territory 👻
➽ In general, this book is perfect if you’re looking for a spooky book that won’t be too scary!! The writing style is good and engaging and the atmosphere really well-conveyed. I also love that this is a series, each focusing on one season and a different paranormal creature/creepy setting!
Dead Voices (#2) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Published: August 27th 2019 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Read Counter: 3 times 🔁
Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.
Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.
With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.
“I believe in memory. I believe in remembering someone you love so well that it becomes kind of like a ghost. You remember someone so hard that it feels like they’re in the next room, just around the corner, that they could walk in any minute.”
➽ Dead Voices is a worthy sequel to Small Spaces and focuses on the winter season and the spooky ghosts it brings. The story follows Oli, Brian & Coco on their winter vacation with Oli’s father and Coco’s mum. They are hoping for a fun vacation but instead encounter a sinister (very haunted) ski-resort. Not only are they snowed in, but the generators aren’t really working and strange things are going on in the house. I love the Snowed In Trope and paired with a haunted ski-loft it made for the perfect setting to confront the three friends with the paranormal again. This was a more traditional ghost story compared to the previous book, yet I still liked the tension and atmosphere. There were some great revelations and good tension, though I did guess the big twist. It was still a good one!
➽ Coco’s and Olivia’s character arcs were great, but I hope Brian is more in focus in the sequel! There was a focus on Coco and her attempts to gain confidence. She hates being called Tiny and wants to prove that she can be strong and independent like her friends. I really like Coco and how you can see her quiet strength. Olivia’s Arc revolves around dealing with the loss of her mother and her father growing closer with Coco’s mother. While Coco is excited she might gain a sister, Ollie is very much skeptical and still struggling with her own grief. I loved the focus on redefining family! Sadly Brian didn’t get as much of the spotlight, but I think he’ll get his time to shine!
Dark Waters (#3) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Published: August 10th 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Read Counter: 2 times 🔁
Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long.
“Brian belatedly realized that if you told a lot of lies, even if it was for a good reason, like trying to keep people safe, it started to get hard to trust that other people were telling the truth.”
➽ Another fantastic installment in the Small Spaces Series! I’m in love with this MG Horror series and I highly recommend you start it 🥰 Dark Waters is the third book and focuses on the season Spring. Once again we follow friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian as they deal with the Smiling Man and try to find out how to truly escape him once and for all. I love that this installment focuses more on Brian, as Ollie and Coco got the spotlight in the two previous books! Brian is such a lovely person, you can really see how much he has grown since the first book and how desperate he is to help his friends. In Dead Voices, he was barely able to do anything, something that keep haunting him and filling him with guilt. He also struggles with parents that worry about him, but that he cannot tell anything, so Brian doesn’t put them in danger.
➽ As the cover promises there’s a vicious sea monster & a haunted island! I loved this new setting as it fit perfectly with the spring theme and was so creepy. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are just hoping to have a nice boat vacation with Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom, but then sinister things start happening. There’s a big survival theme, as they are stranded on an island with a monster on the loose and don’t have many rations. Even worse: there’s lots of death and injury following them like a bad omen. The island and jungle were honestly so creepy and if you’re afraid of snakes, this will definitely chill you! I also loved the inclusion of a new character: Phil, Brian’s former best friend and now frenemy. Ever since becoming friends with Ollie and Coco, following their adventures in Small Spaces, Brian hasn’t been really talking to Phil. Turns out that his former friend might know more about what happened on their ill-fated school trip than they thought. I loved seeing the story from the perspective of someone who wasn’t at the center but still struggles with what happened 👀
Empty Smiles (#4) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Published: August 9th 2022 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Read Counter: 1 time
It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare.
Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.
Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps. The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.
“She took a deep breath. “No.”
He stopped walking.
“Save me from stubborn girls,” he muttered.”
➽ After making her bargain with the Smiling Man, Ollie is trapped in his carnival! The adults think she died the day at the lake, but her friends know better. She’s all alone now, but I loved seeing her interactions with the Smiling Man. They made this book really fascinating and probably my favorite as we finally get some more insight into his motivations and personality. The Smiling Man has been a great antagonist from the beginning – I love villains that are soft-spoken and polite but also have a vicious and cruel side. We don’t get ALL the lore, but his appeal is that he’s mysterious. Olivia is trying to find a way to escape his bargain and through her POV we get to explore the sinister carnival and the murderous clowns. I don’t find clowns scary, but the author delivered some truly chilling scenes! The carnival setting has got a great atmosphere!
➽ Meanwhile Ollie’s friends are debating what to do. Coco, Brian and Phil are the only ones who remember Ollie and are trying to make a plan, as the Smiling Man promised they’d have one chance to save Ollie. Their side of the story focused more on if they should confide in the adults or do it all on their own. I liked that this conversation came up, specifically because it often gets ignored when children or teens are off saving the day. The love Ollie’s friends have for her is heartwarming and even Phil being a new addition to the group is addressed. Though they aren’t at the carnival, the trio is still in danger as the Smiling Man isn’t willing to be beaten another time. The ending raised some interesting points, but I felt that it was slightly rushed. [SPOILERS]The actual game to save Ollie only takes part at the very end of the climax of the story, so it’s pretty short. I didn’t mind this as we see Ollie doing most of the work on her own and her friends are still under threat even far away. Just don’t go into this finale expecting the invitation to the final game until the very end. These books always need more pages in my opinion, as I love getting more content, but especially this last book. I actually felt sorry for the Smiling Man, as it seems like his job is keeping the doorway between the worlds open and it’s hinted that he’s kind of trapped and not too upset Ollie won. Still, I felt like the very end needed at least an epilogue! I really want a spinoff series now 😭[/SPOILERS]
Have you read the Small Spaces Series? What is your favorite Middle Grade Horror book or book series? 👻
12 thoughts on “Series Review: Small Spaces Quartet 👻 The best MG Horror series!”
I just started Empty Smiles so I skipped the last part of this post, but I agree that all the books are amazing! I love how the first 3 books each character got their chance to shine and how they have some chilling moments despite being a MG series!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Just finished Empty Smiles so I had to come here and I agree, the ending is so rushed 😭 I was shocked when it ended because it felt like it went down quickly after that adrenaline from being chased around only to end quickly 😭
LikeLiked by 1 person
I also loved how each book focused a bit more on a different character! Empty Smiles had some interesting conversations with the main villain, but I also wish the ending had been longer! The books are already so short, they are always over too soon 😭
Gosh I want to read this series so badly!! All I see are great reviews for it, thanks for the post! I am taking it as a sign I need to read it. Without giving anything away, what is the strongest part of the series for you (since you have read them all)? Is it the plot or characters or setting or the writing? What sucks you in?
LikeLiked by 1 person
I just skimmed over your reviews because I didn’t want to be spoiled but I saw all the stars you gave each book!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I hope you get to read the Small Spaces books!! My favorite is the atmosphere and setting of each book, the writing is pretty straightforward which makes the books fast-paced and quick reads! 🥰
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m so excited to start this series FINALLY, especially knowing how much you love it! I’m going to have to DM you my thoughts as I read it! 🥰 I think I’m going to start Small Spaces some time this week or weekend. I’m hoping to maybe sit outside on the porch and read it one night lol!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m SO excited that you’ve read it now!! Small Spaces is one of my favorites and it’s such a fantastic book to read in one sitting 🥰 It’s probably my favorite spooky middle grade 🎃