July 6, 2012

House of Dolls

HOUSE OF DOLLS by Francesca Lia Block (Harper, 2010)
GENRE: Contemporary (with fantastic elements)

REVIEW: High up in a penthouse, twelve-year-old Madison Blackberry lives, angry, ignored and jealous of the three dolls who live in the elaborate dollhouse that used to belong to her grandmother. The dolls, Rockstar, Wildflower and Miss Selene, live in peace with their boyfriends (Guy and B Friend), though they fear Madison’s boredom and caprice. And they’re right to fear. After Madison sends Guy off to “war” (a shoebox in the closet) and B Friend is declared MIA, Madison systematically dismantles the dolls’ world, hiding their lovely clothes until they are as shabby and neglected as she feels. It is only through Wildflower’s understanding and compassion that Madison’s anger is addressed and that balance is restored both to Madison’s life and the dollhouse.

OPINION: Though House of Dolls is a slender, deceptively simple story, Block manages to address an impressive number of issues with a light, effective hand. Madison’s need to feel loved and her resulting disappointment manifest as violence – a nice microcosmic metaphor for a macrocosmic problem. Though the dolls are sentient, the book does not feel like fantasy. Magical and lovely though it is, it is grounded in a deep realism, one that will reward repeated readings as a young person grows older.

IDEAS: Though the story is short and relatively straightforward, Block uses language to its full extent, conveying sophisticated thoughts on love, life, war and death in lightly philosophical term terms. It is an excellent volume for slightly older tween ready to step her reading up a notch, while enjoying a quick, compelling story.

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