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Classic children’s literature often reflects the real-life problems of its young readers at home and at school. But sometime in the 1980s, the children in these books began to have less common problems. In addition to his usual worries, there were now ghosts and other unnatural threats. And if there was one author who helped launch and sustain this new trend of spooky encounters, it was betty ren wright. Of all the creepy children’s stories she had published during that pivotal decade, the best known is undoubtedly The Dollhouse Murders.

The title of Wright’s 1983 novel seems too adult, yet despite its intended audience and mostly young cast, The Dollhouse Murders not exactly youthful. It’s a good balance of adult and teen content. Wright and his contemporaries knew how to write a well-rounded coming-of-age tale without badmouthing their intended readers. Adults reading this book can also relate to the main character, who feels trapped in a life situation over which he has no real control.

Amy Treloar is a 12-year-old girl who grows up in a town called Claiborne. And like other kids her age, she has a hard time making friends. Amy believes her loneliness is due to her 11-year-old sister Louann, who has an intellectual disability. With this in the ’80s and all, people can be insensitive or just plain rude when they meet someone different from them. Of course, the author embellishes these messy moments to better illustrate her point. A small altercation at the mall plays out more dramatically than it possibly would have in real life, but for this story to go forward, she Amy needed to be angry.

Louann accidentally causes a scene at the mall under Amy’s watch. A potential new friend named Ellen is also in attendance, and Amy fears that, like so many others, she has been scared off by her sister. Amy, frustrated with Louann and her mother, runs away to her great-grandparents’ old house in a nearby town called Rainbow Falls. Her paternal aunt, Clare, moved there temporarily after leaving for Chicago when she was eighteen. Clare is now clearing the place so that she and Paul, Amy and Louann’s father, can sell it. After hearing what ails Amy, Clare concocts a plan to get the niece away from her home for a week. She thinks that Amy and Louann need some time apart.

To her surprise, Amy’s parents allow her to stay at her great-grandparents’ house for the next week. Clare explained that she was looking for help and companionship. Amy’s mother reluctantly agrees, but not without giving her eldest daughter a guilt trip as only she can. “I still don’t understand…I don’t see why you’re so eager to get away from us.” What the mother doesn’t realize is that Amy not only wants time away from Louann, but also the chance to shape her own identity. Having to take care of Louann all the time, Amy missed out on being a girl. She doesn’t want her teenage years to be more of the same.

This is a sad place, he thought, as it had before. The sadness wasn’t just upstairs in the dollhouse; was all around him.

The other main character of The Dollhouse Murders it’s Aunt Clare, who is even more complicated than her niece. She appreciates her independence and encourages others to have their own. Clare and her sister-in-law naturally disagree on how to raise the girls; the aunt thinks the separation might be good for them, while Amy and Louann’s mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s sudden desire for individuality. Meanwhile, Amy looks up to her aunt and wants to emulate her life trajectory. What she doesn’t know is how Clare came to be like this. All Amy sees is a woman who no longer answers to anyone. She never stops to ask what made Clare so detached and ultimately alone.

Skeletons of the Treloar family begin to appear as soon as Amy delights in the old dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ attic. This custom designed toy is the spitting image of the house Clare and Amy’s father grew up in after their own parents died. The grandparents took them in once they were orphaned, but they were never able to see or treat Clare as a young woman in the few years they lived together. Basically, they wanted her to remain a girl, which explains why they gave Clare a dollhouse for her fifteenth birthday. The only room in the dollhouse that doesn’t resemble the real-life base of hers is, in fact, Clare’s bedroom. As Clare told her niece, Amy’s great-grandmother made the miniature version of her room “look like she thought it was a girl’s room.” should be.” So while everyone else fawns over the dollhouse, Clare only sees the bad memories attached.

Amy knows that her great-grandparents died in 1952, but no one would tell her how. True to her classic YA style, Amy finds her answer in the library. There, in her obituaries, she discovers that her great-grandparents were murdered. Not a huge surprise considering the title, however the details of the crime are grisly. While Clare was out of it, someone broke into the house and killed her grandparents. Her little brother only survived because his grandmother hid him in a closet. The worst thing is that they never found the murderer. The police questioned domestic employees such as the maid and the handyman, but ultimately this became a cold case. Now, the book had a chance to become something more plot-focused. Maybe even hackneyed. With Amy and Clare digging into the past, the author could have turned this into a thriller where the killer of the great-grandparents comes to tie up loose ends.

Fortunately, Wright doesn’t do that.

The Dollhouse Murders it sits in the reign of terror, although this book is more about the characters than what haunts them. Yes, the contents of the dollhouse mysteriously move at night; In the most chilling moment ever, dolls resembling Clare’s grandparents are placed in places that correspond to where their real-life counterparts died. Understandably, Clare freaks out and accuses her niece of pulling a morbid prank on her. A suspicious reader might believe that Clare is succumbing to a guilty conscience.

In order not to tarnish Clare’s character, Wright removes any doubt about her and whether she did everything possible to have her freedom at a young age. I mean, she kill your grandparents? Early on, it was mentioned that the night Clare and Paul’s grandparents died, Clare’s older boyfriend Tom was killed in a car accident. She had been secretly seeing him against her elder’s wishes; they thought he was a drunken loser. The two were even engaged to be married. Like the readers trying to solve this puzzle, Clare suspected that Tom was responsible for the murders. She had no proof of that, and there was no way to confirm her doubts now that he was gone. So throughout her life, Clare believed that she was somehow responsible for the untimely death of her grandparents, and she punished herself.

“If you didn’t move your wrists, who did?”

the result of The Dollhouse Murders It’s a bit anticlimactic, but that doesn’t diminish the overall value. After opening her heart to her nieces, Clare makes a shocking and important discovery. In the dollhouse, Amy’s great-grandmother doll is found pointing to a bookcase in the living room. Clare thinks this means something, and after disassembling the bookcase in the royal drawing room, she and her nieces discover a letter inside a book. Written by Amy’s great-grandmother shortly before her death, it identified her and her husband’s killer: the greedy handyman. If you’re like Clare, you feel the weight suddenly lift off your shoulders. It’s unfortunate that this misconception has plagued a good part of her life, but it’s a relief to know that Clare and her grandparents have somehow made peace with each other. Everyone can move on now.

As for Amy, her arc is handled more subtly compared to Clare’s. Amy was pretty spoiled when it came to all things Louann; she threw a enormous tantrum after an emergency forced her mother to leave Louann with Clare, just before Amy’s private birthday party. Still, her behavior makes sense to anyone who has ever felt that she had to choose between family obligations and inner happiness. Clearly Amy still feels pretty much the same as before; she still longs for a personal life. But the whole dollhouse ordeal put things in perspective about her family. Through Clare’s experience with guilt, Amy came to understand that her mother felt responsible for Louann’s disability. Amy also realized that Louann is not her burden, she is her sister.

Betty Ren Wright wrote a compelling story for and about young people without ever sacrificing depth. What this book lacks in pages, it makes up for in depth. The supernatural element is not as pronounced as might be expected or desired, but The Dollhouse Murders It’s a good reminder of how youbest ghost stories they are sometimes less about the ghosts and more about the living.


There was a time when the young adult section of bookstores was full of terror and suspense. These books were easily identified by their bold fonts and striking cover. This remarkable subgenre of YA fiction thrived in the 1980s, peaked in the 1990s, and finally came to an end in the early 2000s. NOW horror of this kind is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories live on in buried in a book. This recurring column reflects on the nostalgic novels that still haunt readers decades later.

Murders in Dollhouses

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