If you are a fan of mysteries and thriller tales, then you are in for a treat with Sarah Epstein’s debut novel, Small Spaces. As an excellent young adult debut, its themes touch upon some serious topics that affect many of today’s teens. Childhood trauma, mental stress, isolation and family issues are only some of the things that Epstein covers in her book.
The book revolves around Tash Carmody, a teenage girl from rural NSW who has never been able to escape the stories of her past. As a child, she witnessed the kidnapping of her friend’s sister. However, no one believed her—not the authorities, her shrink, her own parents or her friends. They all thought she was making it up to get attention because she was jealous of the attention that her new baby brother was getting. And that was all because she insists that the kidnapper was her imaginary friend, Sparrow.
Still, Tash insists that the little girl, Mallory Fisher, was indeed kidnapped by Sparrow – the same imaginary friend that visited her in her Aunt’s house when she was a child. The same one that forced her to play games she didn’t want to play. For years, Tash has been plagued by her mind, trying to sort through her memories with the help of her therapist.
Finally, at the age of seventeen, Tash thinks she’s gotten a grip on her panic attacks and claustrophobia. That is, until the Fisher family returns to Port Bellamy nine years later, bringing with them Mallory, who has not spoken since the day she was kidnapped. The family’s return to town pulls Tash back into the past that she has desperately been trying to escape.
And as if that isn’t bad enough, Tash starts to see Sparrow again – the same imaginary friend that haunted her all those years ago. Is Sparrow real? Or is Tash’s mind playing tricks on her again?
Epstein creates believable and relatable characters in Small Spaces. Readers will become as confused as the protagonist herself, trying to sort out whether Tash is telling the truth or losing her mind. If you don’t know what genre the book is beforehand, you might even mistake it for a ghost story. Tash’s childhood trauma has affected every aspect of her life, straining even her relationship with her own mother.
The book reveals morsels of information along the way that will make you suspect every single person close to Tash. Who is lying to her? Who can she trust? Is it all a huge conspiracy to drive her crazy? The protagonist is so well developed that you can’t help but feel for her, especially since the trauma that is so real to her is considered nothing but mind games by everyone she loves. It messes with your mind and you can’t help but continue eagerly turning the page to finally find out the truth.
The build-up to the revelation is so well threaded that when you finally reach it, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. It’s the same feeling you get when you finally see the man behind the curtain, and realise that the culprit isn’t the shadowy monstrous spectre they were made out to be, but something so ordinary. Still, Small Spaces is an exciting read for mystery-loving young adults – definitely a good addition to your to-read list.
Kristyn M. Levis is the creative director of 3C Digital. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was published in 2016. Book Two, The Girl Between Light and Dark, is set for release May this year.