Title: Small Spaces
Author: Sarah Epstein
Genre: YA Psychological Thriller
Favourite Quote: “But different is okay. Different will feel normal after a while.”
I came across this book on one of my many peruses through bookshops. There’s a small sense of accomplishment when you come across a newly-released book that no one else around you has recommended or talked about. It’s like stumbling across a hidden treasure or finding a $5 note you didn’t realize you had in a jacket pocket; it’s a small little victory. Small Spaces plays into that all too familiar frustration you feel when you’re young and “the adults know best.” Honestly I think I love psychological thrillers so much because I like to guess what the big “uh ha” moment is going to be; I like to see if I’m right.
Small Spaces follows Tash Carmody, a teenager with severe anxieties sparked from a week spent at her Aunt’s house as a child, where she witnessed her imaginary friend Sparrow kidnap a six-year-old girl, Mallory. Almost ten years later Tash is living some semblance of “normal”, though confusing memories start to resurface when Mallory moves back into town. Sparrow returns, or so Tash thinks, and while she starts to get close with Mallory’s older brother, Tash is left chasing what’s between imagination and reality. She starts to investigate what really happened that week spent at her Aunt’s and it all starts to catch up. Maybe Sparrow is real, or maybe Tash is more dangerous than the monsters that lurk in her mind.
It’s the characterisation of Tash that I like best about this novel. Throughout the whole book Tash struggles with the things she experienced as a child and the fact that no one believes her, leading to intense therapy, trust issues, and so many questions about her mental state. Epstein breaks up her novel with present-day Tash, child-Tash, and interviews between Tash and her therapist. She weaves a complicated web to keep us guessing and to fill in small gaps slowly, right up until the climactic final few chapters.
I will say I find YA psychological thriller tropes a little predictable, particularly when it features a female main character and a mysterious male coming into her life. While this book features this trope, I can understand it’s place and can overlook it, particularly when also considering the book’s intended target audience, the fact that I did not see the ending coming, and the excellent characterisation of Tash. Ultimately, it’s refreshing when I read a young character and have them feel authentic. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys young adult psychological thrillers that keep you questioning every character, and particularly those who enjoy the back-drop of a small Australian town.