I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
Although Josie loves her grandmother, she isn't thrilled about moving in with her. She misses Chicago and, since her grandmother doesn't have internet, she can't contact her old friends. However, Josie's mom recently lost her job, and Josie's grandmother has been displaying worrying signs of Alzheimer's, so Josie's mom decides that this move is for the best.
Josie's grandmother has several odd rules. First, Josie and her sister Anna are not allowed to leave any windows open after dark. Second, no dolls are allowed in the house. And third, Josie and Anna are not allowed to enter the woods behind Josie's grandmother's house. Josie's grandmother also keeps talking about someone named Beryl - Beryl is hungry, and wants to take Josie and her sister away. Part of Josie wants to dismiss this as signs of her grandmother's Alzheimer's, but part of her worries that there might be some truth to it, especially after she and Anna have nightmares about a doll and a creepy house in the woods.
But then Josie makes her first friend at school, a girl named Vanessa. Vanessa is kind, cool, and a vegetarian just like Josie. She lives alone with her aunt. Who collects porcelain dolls. And whose house just happens to be located in the woods, and look just like the one in Josie and Anna's nightmares. But surely it's just a coincidence.
My eldest niece is now old enough to start recommending books, and this is the first book she recommended to me. I later learned that she probably recommended it because she was in the process of reading it and loving it - my sister told me that she ended up disliking and feeling dissatisfied with the ending. Still, my bookish self was happy to get the recommendation. Here's hoping for more in the future.
Alexander tapped into quite a few real-life fears in this book: moving to a new place, trying to make new friends when everyone else already seems to have formed their own cliques, worrying about elderly relatives, and just generally feeling out of place and cut off. Josie can't contact her friends back in Chicago because of her lack of internet, and she seems to be the only vegetarian at a school with horrible lunches that always feature meat in the main course. The creepy dolls, strange dreams, and weird sounds were icing on the cake.
To my adult self, this book wasn't particularly scary. Still, Josie's first visit to Vanessa's house was pretty good. Josie immediately found the place creepy but tried to pretend that she was fine being there, because she didn't want to lose Vanessa's friendship and Vanessa's explanation for why it looked the way it did seemed plausible (her aunt was a big doll collector and was too injured to keep the house properly maintained). Unfortunately, things got a bit too hokey for me when the story behind Beryl, the dolls, and the house in the woods was finally explained.
I'm interested to hear which aspect of the ending my niece had problems with. I can think of two possibilities: the fate of one of the characters and the "you thought it was over but it isn't really over" last page. Based on what my sister said, I'm guessing it was the latter that bugged her.
All in all, this was mostly okay until the revelations at the end.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)