Ffirst the boring bit: I was given the opportunity to review Lisa Manterfield’s new novel, The Smallest Thing, prior to its release. I received a complimentary early review copy from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation has been received or implied for this review, nor was I given guidance about review content. All the opinions expressed here are my own.

Now the fun bit: Lisa Manterfield’s second novel is a winner. The Smallest Thing is the engaging and wonderfully written story of Emmott Syddall, a seventeen-year-old English girl whose bucolic Derbyshire village is afflicted with a mysterious, deadly pandemic.

Already struggling against what she perceives are the claustrophobic constraints of growing up in a tiny hamlet where everyone knows everyone else’s business, Em is forced to confront her fears, her future, her ethics, and the secrets of her fractured family when the village of Eyam is quarantined by the government. You don’t have to know the history of Eyam to enjoy the story, but a little knowledge of Eyam’s medieval plague history will add richness and depth to this captivating, modern retelling of the tale.

Eyam Church

The church in Eyam, UK – © Alan Fleming [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Book cover for the novel "The Smallest Thing"Readers who enjoyed Ms. Manterfield’s first novel, A Strange Companion, will recognize her graceful and effortless writing style, which reaches out to the reader and invites them to walk with Em as she tries to make sense of the chaotic world collapsing around her. Even better, this second novel is deeper, broader in scope, and more complex than the first.

Everything in Em’s life is fair game: her relationships with her parents, her desperate desire for freedom and a big city life in London, the achingly beautiful bond she shares with her best friend and partner-in-crime Deb, and the bliss, betrayal, heartbreak, and ecstasy of love. Em’s emotional conflicts are captured with poignancy, gentle (and sometimes dark) humor, and psychological truth. Truly outstanding work.

From the book jacket:

The very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from ten 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.

As I read the novel, I found myself constantly wondering how things could possibly get worse for Em (they somehow always did), and how she was going to get herself out of the predicaments she kept getting herself into. It was a wonderful way to spend several hours of my weekend.

A wonderful second novel, The Smallest Thing is a gripping read and a delicious mix of suspense, laughter, loss, and redemption. It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

The Smallest Thing can be ordered in both paperback and digital format here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07144H7PJ.

Lisa ManterfieldMore information about Lisa Manterfield and her work can be found at her website: http://lisamanterfield.com.