The Haunted Dollhouse, by Terry Berger, David Berger, and Karen Coshof

Cover of  The Haunted Dollhouse , by Terry Berger, David Berger, and Karen Coshof.

Cover of The Haunted Dollhouse, by Terry Berger, David Berger, and Karen Coshof.

From V.C. Andrews’ Introduction of The Haunted Dollhouse (V.C. ANDREWS, how perfect is that, ahhhhhhhhh!!):

When we are young and vulnerable, and subject to the pressures, the whims and the control of those older, stronger and presumably wiser, we construct within our minds a sanctuary. In times of distress or disappointment we seek to disappear and fade into the perfect environment where we can control our own destinies.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a little surprised that this one appears out of print—at the very least it seems like something that would do really well as a special edition release or something? I mean, the cheapest used copies on Amazon are going for over $70! Seems like there’s got to be at least SOME demand there.

But, on to the actual book. It’s the story of thirteen-year-old Sarah, who gets roller skates and a tennis racket for her birthday. Those gifts are all well and good and she appreciates them, but she doesn’t get what she’s really been dreaming of… until she goes up to her room and discovers that she has one more present to open.

She doesn’t know who it’s from, though the handwriting on the card is “vaguely familiar”.

When she opens the box, she finds that it contains the dollhouse she’s been dreaming of, right down to the “mansard roofs and the gingerbread trim”. It’s perfect.

Before she goes to sleep, she makes her birthday wish: that she’ll wake up INSIDE the house.

And she does.

To a cynical, critical, jerk of an adult, this book could easily come off as somewhat hacky and gimmicky—I think it’s fair to say that getting V.C. Andrews to write your introduction sends more than one message about the contents. Dark thoughts about adolescence, sure… but also, like I said, kinda hacky.

However. Thirteen-year-old me would have been OBSESSED with this book. Thirteen-year-old me would have been like WOAH LOOK HOW THE PICTURES GO FROM BLACK AND WHITE TO SEPIA, THAT’S SO DEEP. And OMG DOESN’T SHE SEE THE DEAD BODIES EVERYWHERE??? And OOOOH LOOK AT THE RINGS AROUND HER EYES I BET SHE’S ACTUALLY DEAD COOOOOOL.

While she wouldn’t have necessarily had the vocabulary to express it, thirteen-year-old me would have really appreciated the font and the layout, even, which both have a silent film feel.

But more than anything else, she’d have loved the combination of the deadpan text with the increasingly creepy pictures.

Photo on page 41: Sarah sitting on the ground next to a book about spiders… WITH A REAL LIVE SPIDER CRAWLING OVER THE BOOK ZOMG

Photo on page 41: Sarah sitting on the ground next to a book about spiders… WITH A REAL LIVE SPIDER CRAWLING OVER THE BOOK ZOMG

For instance, the text opposite this photo from page 41 reads:

On her way back to the house, Sarah stopped at the woodshed, where the governess kept a collection of butterflies and shells. There were also books about spiders and orchids.

Sarah looked through her favorite book. The pictures never failed to intrigue her. They always looked so real.

My scan here isn’t the clearest (sorry), but GET IT? GET IT?? THE NARRATOR IS SAYING THE PICTURES LOOK REAL BUT OMG THERE’S ACTUALLY A TARANTULA THERE!!!

(And again, all that caps-lock-y text coming from a grown-up sounds like—and okay, maybe, a little bit, is—it’s poking a little bit of fun… but all that caps-lock-y text coming from my thirteen-year-old self would have been truly, entirely genuine.)

Basically, this is an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? in book form, and both of my selves are here for it. My grown up self is maybe a little more smirky about it, but affectionately so.