Author: Lisa Manterfield
Narrator: Charlie Sanderson
Length: 8 hours and 28 minutes
Publisher: Lisa Manterfield
Released: Aug. 9, 2019
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
The very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from 10 generations who never left their dull English village, and there’s no way she’s going to waste a perfectly good life that way. She’s moving to London and she swears she is never coming back.
But when the unexplained deaths of her neighbors force the government to quarantine the village, Em learns what it truly means to be trapped. Now, she must choose. Will she pursue her desire for freedom, at all costs, or do what’s best for the people she loves: her dad, her best friend Deb, and, to her surprise, the mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit?
Inspired by the historical story of the plague village of Eyam, this contemporary tale of friendship, community, and impossible love weaves the horrors of recent news headlines with the intimate details of how it feels to become an adult – and fall in love – in the midst of tragedy.
Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of Adult and Young Adult fiction.Her second novel,The Smallest Thing, was a finalist in the 2019 American Fiction Awards. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times,andPsychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Northern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. When not at her treadmill desk, she can be found pulling weeds and daydreaming in her vegetable garden. Learn more at LisaManterfield.com.
I stare at Dad’s text, but it takes ages for the words to make sense. I see them—passed away in the early hours—but I can’t get a grasp on what they really mean. I know people die every day, several every second even, but my mind can’t seem to reconcile the sudden end of my neighbor, how he could be laughing and talking with me a few days ago and then suddenly be gone, like someone hit the “off” button on his remote control and threw away the batteries. It doesn’t add up. He was young—younger than my parents by a long way—and healthy. He was a doctor, for goodness sake! I force my mind to picture him dead, lying in hospital, the life gone out of him, but each time he sits up and grins as if he’s just pulled the best prank ever. What scares me most of all is, if this could happen to Dr. Spencer, it could happen to anyone. We’re all just a flick of a switch from oblivion, every single one of us.
What makes a village? In its simplest form, it is a community of families who work with each other to survive. If that doesn’t happen, what kind of village would that be? Manterfield brings some pretty powerful fears to life with this story, but the fear is credible which makes it even more terrifying. When someone you love has been infected with a deadly virus, your choices are every bit crucial to their survival and comfort as well as your own. How could you possibly ever make that decision?
Emmott Syddall has a cozy life in her little village, but it is not enough. She wants to move to London and she has it set in her mind that she will never look back. Her family has decided to split ways for the holiday, leaving her and her father in the village while her mother and sister go to visit family. That was possibly the worst and best mistake ever imaginable. When neighbors and lifelong friends become sick and start dying from a mysterious illness, Emmott and her father are struck with a grim fate ahead. Before they are able to understand what has fully happened, they are quarantined by this team of hazmat suited men and women to contain whatever it is that is spreading rampant in their village. That means everything that they’ve ever had will be taken away from them, including quite possibly their life. Emmott and her father form a stronger bond in these months than she has ever had with him before as they struggle to ease their community’s fears while trying not to catch the virus themselves. Only one glimmer of hope remains in the darkest times of their life, a love so powerful blooms between Emmott and one of the Red Cross aid workers that may never get to see the light of day.
Manterfield has a superb story-line, filled with creativity, historical elements, and originality. The concepts are not foreign to many readers as we’ve read in school and throughout history of plagues and viruses that decimate villages and towns over short periods of time. The pace is quick and steady from the beginning and carries through the entirety of the story. Manterfield provides an urgency to the lives of these main characters while an unexplained illness wreaks havoc across their small stretch of community. There is a lot of emotional turmoil throughout this story, allowing the reader to sympathize with the characters. Sanderson’s narration of the audiobook brings life to the story and draws the reader in. If you are interested in young adult fiction with a touch of historical element, this may be a perfect fit. Fair warning, once you plunge into this novel, you’ll be hooked until the very end.
An audiobook was provided to Turning Another Page by Audiobookworm Promotions and in no way affects the honesty of this review. We provide a five-star rating to The Smallest Things by Lisa Manterfield.
Q&A with Author Lisa Manterfield
- Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing? Not at all. I first started playing around with the idea for THE SMALLEST THING several years ago, before digital audiobooks started gaining popularity. I’m not sure it even crossed my mind that it might become an audiobook someday. It was a fascinating process to hear the book read to me by someone else and to hear her interpretation of the characters and story. I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind with future books.
- How did you select your narrator? I auditioned several narrators but as soon as I heard Charlie, I knew she was the one. She was born in Yorkshire, the region of England that I am from originally, and she grew up not far from the real-life village of Eyam, where the book is set. It wasn’t just that she was able to do the regional accents; she understood the quirky supporting characters on a personal level. There’s a nosy old lady in the village, a fairly minor character in the story, and Charlie brought her to life and made her so real and authentic, she almost steals the whole book!
- Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing? This book was inspired by the real-life events that happened in the village of Eyam. In the 1600s, the plague ravaged London, killing more than 100,000 people. A tailor inadvertently carried the disease to the tiny village of Eyam 150 miles away. As people started dying, the village elders decided to quarantine their community to prevent the spread of the disease. The people of Eyam made the courageous decision to risk their own lives to save thousands of others. I grew up not far from Eyam and was always fascinated by this little-known story of courage and self-sacrifice. I wanted to find a way to retell it, and eventually decided to bring it into contemporary times and focus on the story of one young woman trapped there. My Em is based on the real-life character of Emmott Syddall. If you visit Eyam today, you’ll find Emmott’s home and many of the cottages where the victims lived and died. People still live in those houses today. You can also visit graves and a boundary stone where people from outside the village would leave supplies. It’s very moving to be there and think about what happened there more than 400 hundred years ago. I always wondered what it would be like if that story happened today … so I wrote THE SMALLEST THING to find out!
- Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you? I really enjoy audiobooks. I was fortunate to have stories read to me as a child and there’s still a part of the grown-up me that loves that. Also, I am looking at written words on the page all day, so it’s very restful to be able to close my eyes and hear a story. I listen to audiobooks at night, so yes, I am still having bedtime stories read to me.
- Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format? When I read, I always do the voices in my head, so hearing my characters speak was an amazing experience. I think the humor in some of the personalities really came out in Charlie’s hands (or mouth). For example, Aiden, the relief worker that Em befriends, was always charming, but he becomes utterly irresistible when he speaks! And the nosy neighbor, Mrs. Glover, really brings some comic relief to the story. I suppose that must have always been there in the writing, but hearing their voices brought them to life.
- If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go? I’m fascinated by Ancient Egypt, so I’d love to go to see what it was really like. I think I’d end up getting into trouble though. You’re not supposed to do anything to change the course of history when you time travel, but I’m not sure I’d be able to stop myself from inviting certain historical villains for a cup of tea and a little chat about their appalling behavior.
- What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”? I fully admit that I still love to pick up and read paper books, but I don’t consider audiobooks to be cheating at all. If you go back to the origins of storytelling, it was all verbal. We sat around our cave fires telling stories of sabre tooth tiger attacks and wooly mammoth conquests. Early humans shared stories to pass on wisdom, and that’s still true today. A good story teaches us something about ourselves, or others, or the world around us. Whether we consume stories by reading, listening, or watching them performed, the end result is still the same.
- What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump? Walking gets me out of a writing slump. I have a beautiful wooded park not far from where I live. I have walked miles there as I’ve tried to noodle through writing problems. Just being out in nature, hearing birds and the wind in the trees, helps clear my head. I read a lot of books because I “need” to read them, either to write reviews or to study other authors, so sometimes I burn out on reading. When that happens, I find something to read just for fun.
- Have any of your characters ever appeared in your dreams? My next novel is almost ready for publication (and yes, there will be an audiobook edition!) That story came to me in the most vivid dream I’ve ever had. I was staying at a friend’s house and slept in her room. She had all these stuffed toys and a big net full of rubber ducks. It was a fun room, but quite claustrophobic for sleeping. Anyway, I had this crazy dream. I was a little girl in the backseat of a car. Through the rear window I watched a man, who I was sure was my dad (my dream dad, not my real dad), drop a body into a lake. And I knew that the body was my sister. (I don’t have a sister IRL, thankfully!) It was so vivid and real and it stuck with me for months. My husband said, “You have to write that story” but I couldn’t do it. It was too horrible. It was quite a few years before I figured out how to use that dream to tell a story I actually wanted to write. It became THE PERFECT SISTER. It’s a psychological suspense, but not as terrifying as the dream.
- What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors? Keep writing. Make time in your life, even if it’s only a few minutes a day, to write something. If your mind is overflowing with ideas, pick one and focus on finishing a draft. Then put it aside and start something new. You learn so much from finishing a project, whether it’s a novel, short story, or something else, and understanding where it hangs together and where it falls apart.
- What’s next for you? My next novel, THE PERFECT SISTER is finished and being shopped around. While I wait the eternal wait, I’m working on a Historical YA set in World War II, which I’m really enjoying.
I’m also in the process of producing my first novel, A STRANGE COMPANION, as an audiobook. I’m narrating it myself, which is a very different experience, but really fun. It should be available later this year. Hopefully, I’ll get to come back and tell you all about it.
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