Frozen Billy -- Anne Fine
This is a creepy one.
Clarrie and Will are just waiting for the day when their father (who is in Australia looking for work) will earn enough money to send for them. Until then, they go to school, their mother works in a shop and their ventriloquist uncle regularly stops by for dinner with his stage dummy, Frozen Billy.
Then their grandmother dies and their mother travels to Ireland for the funeral. While in Ireland, she is wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. Clarrie immediately quits school and finds a job.
Uncle Len moves in with the kids for the duration. His temper and his drinking, which had both been kept in check by his sister-in-law's presence, get steadily worse as his ventriloquist act gets less and less attention at the music hall.
Life seems to be heading nowhere good -- and fast -- when Will comes up with an idea: He will join Uncle Len's act. He'll take to the stage and play the part of Frozen Billy's twin brother. Money will come pouring in and Everything Will Be Good.
Exhaustion, resentment and paranoia follow.
Okay. Ventriloquist's dummies scare me more than clowns, which is really saying something. (Did you ever see Magic? I saw it way too young and it scarred me for life. AND the dummy wasn't even possessed or anything!)
Even the first description of Frozen Billy was enough to give me the shivers:
I hated Frozen Billy. I hated everything about him. I hated him even more than Will did, if that's possible. I hated his painted, staring, wooden eyes and the way his eyelids clicked when Uncle Len pulled the string inside his back to make them blink. I hated his long thin legs, like dangling rods. I hated his bright red wooden mouth, clacked shut or gaping open as square and wide as the opening in a mailbox.
It's an Anne Fine book. As anyone who's ever read Anne Fine knows, she does family turmoil really, really well. And she does it dark.*
I'd say it's a good one for ages 8-12, kids who like historical fiction and/or British family stories AND who like it when the story enters the Realm of Psychological Horror.
*(The movie adaptation of Alias Madame Doubtfire IS NOTHING like the book.)