Midnight in the Dollhouse, by Marjorie Filley Stover
Based on this cover art, I would never ever in a million years assumed that this was a historical set in the 1860s. It looks really 1980s to me? Anyway.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, eight-year-old Melissa breaks her hip and is confined to bed for four months. Her mother gives her a doll family to keep her company, and later, her older brother builds a beautiful dollhouse for them to live in. Once she’s up and about again, her cousin Valerie—whose Southern plantation-owning family is now on Hard Times due to having to actually PAY folks to work for them—comes to visit.
Choice Valerie Quote:
“If it had not been for the War between the States, Mama says that I could have had a dollhouse. The war spoiled everything. And Yankee soldiers are still hanging around, stirring up trouble.” (71)
She then goes on to proclaim that the people they enslaved were never mistreated, etc., etc.
And then we get to see Melissa modelling some terrible (but extremely common) White Lady behavior by not pushing back in order to keep the peace with her gross racist slavery-loving cousin:
Just in time, Melissa remembered Mama’s warning not to argue about the war with Valerie.
So, yeah: Midnight in the Dollhouse. Pretty sure that I could happily go the rest of my whole life without reading another book in which someone tries to make me feel bad about the plight of formerly-rich slave owners in the aftermath of the Civil War. Or about their search for missing gold, unless they’re planning on giving said gold to the people they formerly enslaved. (Spoiler: They’re not.)
The writing in general is stiff and stilted and repetitive AND the papa doll keeps feeling things “in his china bones” which makes NO sense. Which, I realize that we’re talking about magic dolls, but STILL.
Bonus positive points for: The subtle budding romance between Melissa’s older brother and her tutor.
Bonus negative points for: Making the one Black doll serve as the cook; for leaning on the Magical Negro trope by making her more magic than the other magic dolls because voodoo; for naming the two Japanese dolls Miss Blossom and Miss Cherry and making them “burble” in broken English; some gross attitudes and language around disability.
Nutshell: Sometimes it’s okay to let books fall out of print.