Title: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
Scored a: B+
This was a book that was around in my childhood (I even chose to represent it with the cover I knew it by) that I never read and often conflated with another story where a little girl finds an old dollhouse with dolls that move on their own. In the one I mixed it up with, the girl refurbishes their dollhouse and gave me an untrue expectation of wallpaper sample availability. Still can’t remember its name.
In this one? There’s murder and screaming. Perfect late night read.
Plot: Amy is having a hard time at home, so she temporarily moves in with her Aunt Clare. When she finds her Aunt Clare’s old dollhouse, she’s enchanted. Until the dolls begin acting out the brutal murder of her great-grandparents. With her little sister Louann and her friend Ellen’s help, she sets to find out what the dollhouse is telling her. Even if Aunt Clare wants them to leave well enough alone.
Ah, I loved this. It had me leaning in to read more, and I could almost hear the thunderstorm raging around in the scariest moment of the book.
Amy is 12 (turning 13 over the course of the book) and life isn’t easy for her. Her little sister Louann has brain damage and taking care of her is wearing Amy down, especially since she blames her sister for how other children avoid her after meeting Louann. This was something I’d seen myself in person – in this case an extremely frustrated little brother with his older low-functioning autistic brother, so it rang pretty true to me.
If you’re worried, Louann does okay for herself. She has her own interests and her own life going on, and is pretty essential to how the book plays out and not in a magical savant way. The only problem with her part of the story I had is where Aunt Clare suddenly knows better than everyone else to help the niece that she just met. It felt unfair, narratively.
That said, gosh, I like this book. Amy realizing she has friends, Amy discovering things, Amy being brave, the creepiness of the dolls. All of it.
If you want a ghost story with a lot of atmosphere (but remember it’s aimed at middle grade), definitely check this one out.
I purchased another book by the author, Christina’s Ghost. Looking forward to it.