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Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker
The Biograph Girl by William J. Mann Break the Chains by Megan E. O'Keefe
Cheddar Off Dead by Korina Moss and Erin Moon (Narrator)
The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon
Cryptid Club by Sarah Andersen
Curtain Call by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Illustrator)
Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney and Stephanie Racine (Narrator)
Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay and Allyson Ryan (Narrator) Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden
Guidebook to Murder by Lynn Cahoon and Susan Boyce (Narrator)
The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs
A Killing in Costumes by Zac Bissonnette and Melanie Carey and Paul Bellatoni (Narrators)
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
Leviathan by Jason Shiga
The Liminal Zone by Junji Ito
Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape) by Carrie Jones
Manor of Dying by Kathleen Bridge and Vanessa Daniels (Narrator)
Murder by the Book by Lauren Elliott and Karen White (Narrator)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie and Hugh Fraser (Narrator)
On This Airplane by Lourdes Heuer and Sara Palacios (Illustrations)
The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman and David McPhail (Illustrations)
Primordial by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino (Artist) and Dave Stewart (Artist)
Smile Beach Murder by Alicia Bessette and Karissa Vacker
Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Lim and Annie Q (Narrator)
The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner and Jeremy Holmes (Illustrator)
Tumble by Celia C. PĂ©rez
Unseen Magic by Emily Lloyd-Jones
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

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Empty Smiles: 12/08/22

Empty Smiles

Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden (2022) finishes the Small Spaces middle grade horror series. The Smiling Man has one last game for Coco, Brian, and Phil. At stake is Ollie's freedom as well as the release of numerous children kidnapped and transformed by a sinister traveling carnival.

The previous volumes were very focused, being set in one location with all the children working together. This one is different as the Smiling Man tries to divide and conquer. Ollie for the majority of the novel is separated from the others, and presumed drowned. Another one ends up injured. Even the parents, who were on board for the third book are separated as their homes are threatened.

These novels are all short, coming in around two hundred pages. Empty Smiles, though, has more plot and questions than the previous three combined.

First is the train that has been serving as Ollie's home since the lake. It seems to be akin to the Infinity Train or a Hell Train but there isn't time to for Ollie to explore. Nor is it ever really established how the train relates to the carnival beyond expecting the reader to know that carnivals often travel by train. A cursed carnival probably comes by a cursed train.

Next there are the children already imprisoned by the carnival clowns. How do they relate to the Smiling Man? Are they part of something bigger or is the Smiling Man now somehow their prisoner too?

Finally the book ends with Ollie realizing that the Smiling Man is as much a victim of his games as the children are. Did their first encounter the previous October somehow entwine their fates? What makes Ollie et al different from the other victims?

As this book is the end, I suspect none of these questions will be explored further. I think instead a deeper re-read of the four is in order.

Chart showing the four books' relative placements on the Road Narrative Spectrum.

Like the previous three, this novel sits on the Road Narrative Spectrum. The novel ends midway between the two extremes, with the children now as marginalized travelers (66). Their destination is home (66): a return to home being a safe place and the rescue of Ollie and others so they can return home. Their route is the cornfield, described through out the novel as the place where the carnival sets up in each town (FF).

Five stars

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