March 10, 2017

The Doll's Eye

Written by Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
208 pp.
Ages 8-12
February 2017

There’s a creepiness in the old house to which twelve-year-old Hadley Jackson and her mom, and mom’s new husband Ed Crenshaw and his six-year-old son Isaac have moved. 
A heaviness in the air seemed to press down on her.  And, despite the August heat, it was cold and clammy, like a years-unopened tomb. (pg. 2)
She even feels like she’s being watched, though it could simply be the doll’s eyeball she discovers beneath her bed.  But, with her mom giving the lion’s share of her attention to Isaac, a child with numerous food allergies, Hadley is feeling less than hospitable to Ed and Isaac.  When the girl discovers an old dollhouse, a replica of the actual house, with four carved dolls–a man, a woman, a little girl, and an older woman in the apartment over the garage– Hadley sees a perfect family, and wishes the same for herself.   But, as many a tale has taught us, you must be careful with wishes.

Though she still feels out of sorts–in fact, she’s feeling an odd numbness in her hand which is extending to other parts–Hadley meets a couple of individuals who make her start to feel at home: Gabe, a neighbour boy who knows everything about snakes and insects , and the elderly woman, Althea S. de Mone a.k.a. Granny, who lives over the garage.  Gabe comes over daily to play and take her on excursions into the ravine at the back and Granny invites her for tea and crumble and chats about the dolls which she admits to carving.

But things begin to get really strange when the people in her life begin to change as the dolls disappear and are replaced.  First, Ed and Isaac disappear like they’d never existed and all of Hadley’s mom’s attention is focused on her daughter.  Hadley knows it is related to her wish that Ed and Isaac had never come into her life and tries to make things right again but ends up with another more haunting scenario with a father she’d never known.  She knows it’s all tied to the doll’s eye and the dollhouse but making it right seems near impossible. 
Hadley barely made it to her bed before her knees gave out.  She lay for the longest time, thinking, rubbing her numb hands.  It was as though someone had wrinkled the fabric of reality, changing the pattern of its threads.  She closed her eyes.  Perhaps if she dozed off, she’d wake from the nightmare and things would be back to normal. (pg. 100)
As if.

In the subtle terror reminiscent of W.W. Jacob’s chilling short story "The Monkey’s Paw", Marina Cohen brings creepiness into making wishes and into a young girl’s desire for a perfect family.  Hadley is just a naïve young girl who thinks she knows what will make her life better, just like the young girl from the past whose reminiscences Marina Cohen includes throughout The Doll’s Eye. But, whether in the past or the present, the young girls in The Doll’s Eye make some selfish and poor choices that have impacts never imagined.

By implanting her story in the seemingly innocent entities of youth i.e., dolls and dollhouses, Marina Cohen will have young readers shocked when they enter the disturbing realm of horror. But I guess that’s what the genre is meant to do, frighten and disturb. Thankfully, it’s the right amount of fright for young readers, never too much or of the grotesque variety, and it will keep them edge-of-their-seats reading until the last page, never expecting the ending.  As a seasoned reader, I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and I expect younger readers won’t either, though they will be thrilled with Marina Cohen’s twisted take on making wishes and what a perfect family entails. But, more than anything, they will be beguiled with another offering by Marina Cohen to a genre rarely published for middle grade readers and a sensational and supernatural contribution at that.

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