In this series opener, Mara and her little brother, Jesse, pay a visit to the strange novelty shop Frightville, where the fifth grader decides to purchase an antique doll for her dollhouse.
In the doll’s dress pocket, Mara discovers a tiny letter addressed to a mysterious Charlotte, the name Mara decides to give her. But after Mara forgets to recite a ghost-prevention spell that the storekeeper urged her to pronounce before putting the doll to bed, strange things begin to happen. During a sleepover, Mara’s best friend tells her about dolls people used to have made in the likenesses of deceased loved ones. Things get worse when Mara wakes up and finds herself trapped in the dollhouse and Charlotte outside, now human-sized and alive. Can Mara find her way out of this dilemma? This early-middle-grade horror tale sacrifices detail to plot and pacing. Setting is given short shrift, for instance, and readers learn only halfway through that Mara has brown skin, depriving readers of color of a potential mirror character for much of the story. Nevertheless, the mystery draws readers along, ending on a truly chilling note. The series’ second installment, Curse of the Wish Eater, publishes simultaneously but does not continue Mara’s story, instead focusing on Max and his purchase at Frightville.
If readers didn’t think old dolls were creepy before this, they surely will after. (Horror. 7-10)