Author William Sleator died last week. He was probably most known for his science fiction books for teens, but he also wrote a Newbury-award winning picture book and several books for younger readers. One of his books–Blackbriar–was already featured in our blog as an Old Favorite, but many others also hold fond memories for readers of all ages.
House of Stairs, Run, Interstellar Pig, Into the Dream…all were on my personal “old favorites” list. When trying to decide on one for this entry, one title stood out. Among the Dolls. Why? Because it has to be one of the creepiest mystery books I ever read!
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Vicky wants–really, really wants–a ten-speed bike for her birthday. Unfortunately, her parents haven’t listened to her broad hints for a birthday gift, so what she gets is an antique dollhouse. Vicky almost cries at the sight. The dolls in the dollhouse are old and musty, just like the house and the furniture. As far as she can tell, there’s absolutely nothing appealing about the whole situation. Even buying the ugliest, most modern doll she can find and adding him to the doll family doesn’t make her happy.
When school starts, Vicky’s unhappiness increases. Her mother, who plays the piano for a living, breaks her hand, and in her frustration starts arguing with Vicky’s father. Things at home just get worse and worse. Because she’s miserable, Vicky takes out her unhappiness on the dolls, making them fight among themselves. She sends the doll children to bed without any supper, and has the parents argue about everything.
One afternoon Vicky becomes dizzy. When she blinks, she finds herself inside the dollhouse, the same size as the dolls! Surrounded by the dollhouse family, small and helpless, Vicky finds herself at their mercy. And guess what? The family members are not feeling very merciful; every single one of them seems to be very angry with her for what she has put them through. They have become the monsters she created.
But maybe not EVERY single family member. Vicky discovers she has one secret ally–Dandaroo, the modern baby boy doll she added to the house. But will his help be enough? Vicky must survive the doll family’s revenge and find a way out of the dollhouse, before she is trapped forever.
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Originally published in 1975, this was William Sleator’s fifth book. The illustrations,by Trina Schart Hyman are in keeping with the ominous atmosphere of the story; showing a dollhouse family that look like dolls but that are also quite frightening. As an example, the father doll’s face is worn off and the girl doll is partially melted from being left (by Vicky) in the sun too long.
Among the Dolls is a very short book–only 70 pages, but there’s a lot packed into those pages! It’s also one of the creepiest books I remember reading; something that’s a bit amazing considering his later books feature underground beasts, kids who fall in radioactive poison, and aliens coming to Earth to play a game with teenagers as their game pieces!
Many readers remember Among the Dolls…well, if not fondly, definitely vividly. It comes up pretty frequently on stumper lists as a book people try to find to reread as adults. It’s a probably written on a third grade level, but because of the subject matter, best for fourth or fifth graders. It is also a good story to read aloud, if just to talk about how listeners felt about it.
So if you want a short, scary book that will stick with you, try Among the Dolls. Just don’t read it with an antique dollhouse in the room!