‘We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us. . .’
Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein is a psychological thriller that holds no punches and addresses important aspects of adolescent mental health in a way that’s both insightful and sensitive without being twee. The story follows Tash Carmody, a neurotic claustrophobic who is haunted by an incident that happened many years earlier when her imaginary friend Sparrow lured young Mallory Fisher away from a local carnival. One week later, Mallory was found over 40 kilometres away from where she was last spotted. Mallory never spoke again.
Back then no one believed Tash’s story about her imaginary friend and a series of child psychiatrists soothed the frightened girl by convincing her that ‘Sparrow’ simply didn’t exist. But as an older teenager, Tash is suddenly revisited by her shadowy, nightmarish counterpart, Sparrow, who appears to her in the darkness of night and speaks to her like a voice in her head. Things get worse when the Fisher family, having left for some years after the traumatic incident with their daughter Mallory, return to the town. It doesn’t help matters when Tash feels an undeniable attraction to Mallory’s older brother, Morgan.
While Sparrow’s reappearance plunges Tash’s life back into dark, perplexing chaos, another war is occurring between her parents and her Aunt Ally, her belligerent and defiant relative who lives in the family home. Although they are less than amicable, it was in Aunt Ally’s home that Tash was first visited by Sparrow, and it is there that she will eventually unveil the dark secrets that continue to torment her.
Small Spaces is a clever, highly entertaining read and an impressive debut from a thoughtful writer who knows how to weave contemporary concerns of mental illness through a story with stampede intensity. It has all the atmospheric paranoia of exhilarating horror writing without any of the predictability that tends to water the genre down. Small Spaces also has charm in spades and a daub of teen angst with poor Tash falling helplessly in love with Morgan, who is in turn totally unaware of how complicated that makes everyone’s lives.
Sleep-lovers be warned: this book is not your ally.
Ages 14+ (and for anyone who loves a well written spooky read)
About the author
Sarah Epstein spent her childhood drawing, daydreaming, and cobbling together picture books at the kitchen table. A writer, illustrator, and designer, she grew up in suburban Sydney and now lives in Melbourne with her husband and two sons. Small Spaces is her first novel.