Small Favors by Erin A. Craig: a spoiler-free book review

February 12, 2022

When I'd learned that Erin A. Craig was coming out with another novel, I couldn't contain my excitement. House of Salt and Sorrows is an all-time favorite that I still find myself thinking about. I picked up Small Favors as soon as it was available at my public library. 

If you'd asked me to rate it when I was halfway done, I would have said 10/10, easy. My opinion soon changed as I drew nearer to the end of the novel. 

Small Favors follows our protagonist, Ellerie Downing. The book is set in Amity Falls, a small town located in the middle of a mountain range, making it fairly difficult to access. Long ago, the town's founders fought off the creatures that inhabited the woods surrounding Amity Falls, which remain unofficially off-limits. Only planned supply runs to replenish the town's non-renewable resources like medicine and other sundries are made. When one of these supply runs goes missing, the fear that the creatures that once inhabited the woods have returned begin to creep in. Slowly, things begin going awry. There are sightings of silver-eyed creatures looking inwards from the treeline. Animals are born with various maladies and deformities. Suspicion begins to fall not only on the untimely visitors that arrive at Amity Falls but among neighbors as well.

One common complaint that I saw was about how slow the novel began, with things only picking up around the last 20% of the book. I, however, love slow burns. I think Craig did a great job at letting the reader get accustomed to Ellerie's norm while giving us subtle indications that things were just a bit off. Additionally, the author is able to create such a perfect atmosphere in her writing, that I personally wouldn't have changed the pacing of the book at the beginning at all. I was completely immersed in Amity Falls, and while I do have qualms with the book, the atmosphere that she creates is not one of them. The book had me craving honey cakes the entire way through, so much so that I let myself have a spoonful of honey every now and then (I even found a honey cake recipe that I can't wait to try). The world she created was *chef's kiss.*

My issues began with the final 20-30% of the book. While the first portion took great care to show us the dire circumstances that Ellerie and the entire town were experiencing, the last quarter just took OFF. Had this been executed in ways that made a little more sense or fit with the established attitude of each character, I wouldn't have had such an issue. Most of the questions were answered, but the ones that weren't were pretty significant. Loose ends were hastily tied and the overall ending felt incredibly rushed. Finishing Small Favors reminded me of answering an essay question on a timed exam: while taking time to write an eloquent and well thought out answer, you realize that you're nearly out of time and quickly scribble out your point before the time is up. 

Characters that had been established as being total asses throughout the book made a complete 180 with no explanation at just the right time. Ellerie makes decisions at the pinnacle of the climax that disregards everything that had been established about her person. And finally, the one question that the Downing family had- the sliver of hope that they clung to throughout the god-awful year they experienced in Amity Falls- is never addressed.

I could have enjoyed the fast-paced ending had it been done a bit differently. The combination of off-brand decision-making and peripheral characters that I never really cared about made the landing fall just a little flat for me. I would have liked the ending to have been more fleshed out and/or the beginning to focus on fleshing out the peripheral characters (Whitaker and Rebecca in particular) and their relationships with our protagonist to make me feel something for them when they come into play a bit later on. 

Overall, this book was a 7/10 for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptive and colorful building of Amity Falls, as well as the subtleties that made me feel everything from the bitter cold to half-starved to death, to unconditional love for my siblings, and everything in between. And let's not forget those honey cakes. I may even post about my attempt at making some in the future.