(Cover of my signed copy in 1986. It was signed inside on the front cover.)
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright was copyrighted in 1983. I didn't read it until 1986 at age 11. I don't know if I would have ever read it, except for the fact that I had a chance to meet Ms. Wright at the author fair at the Lake Geneva Public Library (Wisconsin) on November 15, 1986. I believe that my mom bought me the book there, and then I took it into the room where the various authors were waiting to sign their books for their adoring readers. At that point in time, I was sure that I was going to be a Writer when I grew up. My mom asked Ms. Wright to tell me that I needed to have another profession, too, so I could earn money and have health insurance as an adult. At the time, I said, no, I was just going to write and become famous. (I know it's still not too late. I can continue working at this. . . )
Ms. Wright was a very kind and gracious woman. I felt more shy than usual in her presence. She was an Author! I couldn't believe that Authors were really very real people. It was quite intimidating for me, but she was very nice (which made me think all Author as nice people, which didn't seem to be the case the next year when I met a different Author - a YA writer - who seemed very put out - but that will be another entry in the future). After meeting her, and reading Dollhouse Murders, I proceeded to borrow the rest of her juvenile/pre-teen books from the library, and to read her new books as the came out even as I got older. I loved her style.
On to the actual book --
Amy finds an old dollhouse in the attic of her aunt's house. It looks completely like her aunt's house, too, inside and outside. Lots of strange thing happen, such as the dolls moving on their own (and this gave me a taste for creepy doll stories - in high school I moved on to Ruby Jean Jensen horror paperbacks, particularly her book Baby Doll.) The back cover blurb says, "Amy knows the dolls are trying to tell her something - but she's terrified to find out what." I had to read to find out what, of course.
The books begins with Amy with her best friend Ellen, and they are out in public trying to look for Louann, Amy's younger sister who is larger than she is but Amy has to take care of because she is mentally retarded. She resents having to take care of her all the time (which some things later in this book resolve - things with their mother, mostly), and runs away to her aunt's house. Her aunt is great, and offers to let her stay there a little while, to get away, even offers to host Amy and Ellen's joint sleepover birthday party. However, her aunt gets angry and upset when she finds that the dollhouse (which was hers when she was younger) has been played with, and the dolls, who represent her aunt's murdered grandparents, are in the positions they were in when they (the grandparents) died. She does not believe Amy when Amy says that she is not the one moving the dolls. It is finally when Louann witnesses it and corroborates the story that Aunt Clare finally believes. They figure out that the dolls/the grandma's spirit is trying to show them where to find the answers to what happened all those years ago. The grandma doll leads them to the house's library room - and a letter is found in a book. It turned out that Aunt Clare thought that she was responsible for the death of her grandparents - that her boyfriend at the time killed them. It turned out it wasn't him at all. Aunt Clare starts looking very young again, and stops beating herself up over it.
It was a very satisfying read. I had already liked ghost stories, but this book I would recommend easily to 8 to 12 year olds. I really, really liked the author, too, as a person. It is important for kids and teens to actually meet the author. It's magical . . .