I read a lot of scary books in my middle grade years. I chalk this up to the fact that I was coming of age at the height of R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series and Christopher Pike’s Fear Street series, not to mention the plethora of wonderful stand alone ghost stories of the early 90s. When Danielle asked me to participate in her blog series, The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright came immediately to mind. It was and remains the scariest book I’ve ever read.
Frustrated with her parents, sister, and even her fair-weather best friend, Amy finds herself spending more and more time at her grandparent’s house, where her Aunt Claire currently lives. In the attic she discovers an antique dollhouse that is an exact replica of the house. Despite Aunt Claire’s reservations, Amy fixes up the dollhouse only to discover that the dolls are capable of moving on their own. When she stumbles upon a shocking murder in her family’s past, Amy becomes convinced that the dolls are trying to tell her something.
This book is capital S scary. From the very beginning Wright sets up a taut thriller, creating incredible tension and a sense of other-worldly horror. What could be more horrifying than ghosts that communicate by moving a child’s toys? I found this book deliciously scary, but I remember other readers in my class found it too disturbing. I admit that since reading it, dollhouses give me the creeps. Way to ruin a perfectly good toy for me, Betty Ren Wright!
But as much as I love the scary bits of The Dollhouse Murders, what I love most about this book, and perhaps the reason in stands up to multiple readings, is the non-supernatural familial conflict. This is not just a ghost story– this is a story about a frustrated girl who is having difficulty shouldering the responsibility of looking after her mentally-challenged sister Louann. The subplot is deftly woven into the main action as Louann plays a key role in unraveling the mystery of the murders.
Check it out- but be warned, this one is creepy!
Vikki Vansickle is the jill-of-all-trades of children’s books. She is the author of Words That Start With B, Love is a Four Letter-Word and the upcoming Days that End in Y (February 2013). Vikki is the Children’s Specialist at HarperCollins Canada and is heavily involved in the children’s book community as a speaker and workshop coordinator. You can find Vikki online at vikkivansickle.wordpress.com.
This post is part of the month long feature Happy Hallow’Read! Don’t forget to check out more Happy Hallow’Read posts and the spectacularly spooky giveaways! (Details here.)