“We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.”
Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real.
Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks?
Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein is a debut psychological thriller that explores the notion of imaginary friends and fractured memories, and learning to trust your own instincts.
Tash Carmody is an unreliable narrator. She’s not sure if she can trust her own mind, and she’s been told for the past nine years that her friend Sparrow was just imaginary. She’s been told that what she remembers from the night of the carnival — when Mallory went missing — is a false memory.
“I dig my fingernails into the seat and swallow my rising panic. I know who I think I saw, but there’s no way I can admit it out loud. Mum glances at me expectantly and suddenly I’m eight years old again, fumbling through explanations about Sparrow and the carnival, only to be met with confusion and impatience.”
One of the major strengths of the book is the dynamic between Tash and her parents. Their strained relationship and their constant concern and overbearing nature will resonate with young readers. Tash’s mum is always looking for a reason to be disappointed in Tash, or bring up her ‘condition’. I think Sarah wrote their relationship really well, and allowed it to evolve over the course of the novel.
The novel is well-paced, and moves between past and present really effortlessly. There are also chapters where Tash is talking to her therapist, and I think Sarah captured those conversations really well. The dialogue is realistic, and the pacing of the novel contributes to the overall ‘creepiness’ of the story, and the reader’s desire to get to the end of the book and find out the truth.
“Rachel and I exchange another look that tells me we’re both one hundred per cent sure any common ground we once had has been torched and decimated. She turns away from us and buries her nose in her journal.”
I think Sarah foreshadowed too much in the first half of the novel. At no point did I actually think Tash was imagining things, even when she starts to believe it herself. I thought the dynamic between Tash and her aunt Ally was a little unrealistic from the beginning, which meant I was suspicious of their relationship and what secrets it may hold.
Additionally, I think the problems between Tash and her friend Sadie were solved too quickly. Their relationship has cracks in it, and they build and build until there’s a breaking point. That is written really effectively. And then, the climax is really sudden and short and everything seems to solve itself really fast. It jolts the reader and leaves them feeling unnerved by the rapid ending of the book.
“Beside me my mother heaves a sigh, and the security team hurries away. I sink into a wooden seat and rest my elbows on my legs to stop them trembling. I can’t look Mum in the face, and she’s interested in me anyway.”
Small Spaces is perfect for teen readers. If you’re a regular reader of thrillers and mysteries, you may find the ending a little unsurprising, but it’s a fast-paced book with a lot of twists and turns, and you will be guessing until the very end.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Walker Books Australia