First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Curiosity Quills publishing for allowing me access to this title in exchange for an honest review.
‘The room was pitch black as I lay in bed, and my heart pounded against my ribs as I waited. It was my turn tonight. Any second now, I would see a shadow of feet under my door. The hinges would squeak. The door would open wide. He could get into my bed.’
I started reading this on the bus on the way to Oxford, and shudders were instantly running down my spine. The opening few chapters of this book make it impossible to tear your eyes away – I almost forgot to make notes!
Seven years ago, Riley, Layla, Adalyn and Kylie were kidnapped by a man who forced them to call him Master and kept them captive in his Dollhouse. Until the night the girls decide it’s time to end it all: either their Master dies, or they’ll set the place on fire and burn to death with him.
They manage to get free, and after a whirlwind couple of hours they’re reunited with their own families. Riley gets to meet her new little brother, Kylie’s parents are back together and Adalyn discovers her mother died just a couple of weeks before they escaped. But it’s difficult to readjust to life on the outside, particularly because the four girls are separated from each other for the first time in almost a decade.
Riley’s parents don’t want her to see the others anymore: they think it’ll be too hard for Riley to be reminded of such a harrowing experience every time they see each other. But her parents also don’t want her to hang out with Wilson, the boy who lives next door and the only one who isn’t treating her like the fragile doll the Master saw.
Tackling the question of what exactly makes people family and how mental scars can be much deeper than physical ones, ‘The Dollhouse’ doesn’t shy away from discussing serious topics, putting itself firmly at the higher end of the young adult age bracket.
I hate to say it, but I was bored almost constantly while reading this. I loved the first 25%, but then scenes kept repeating and I felt as though I was getting stuck in a loop.
Wilson and Riley’s relationship moves very slowly. I appreciated that he was very respectful of the fact that she’d been locked away and hadn’t ever had a romantic relationship, but they have the same conversation multiple times and it’s exasperating.
She wants more and he refuses, then he caves, then he feels guilty, then she tells him it was fine and she wants more, but he refuses… Over and over, repeating the same sequence of events.
It’s a great excuse to insert more passionate dry humping scenes, but it didn’t feel natural at all, and I found myself skim reading some of the hotter scenes because they were repetitive and nothing new was happening.
In all honesty, their entire relationship felt grating. I don’t appreciate characters that use pet names on people they’ve just met – particularly girls that they’re determined they aren’t flirting with – so Wilson constantly referring to Riley as ‘babe’ and ‘sweetheart’ made me feel very uncomfortable and a little nauseous.
However I was happy to see female masturbation represented. Male masturbation features regularly in YA but I’ve never stumbled across female characters exploring their sexuality alone before. Equal opportunities for pleasure, yo!
This book was overwhelming, with too much being dealt with in an awkwardly paced way. The scenes between Riley and Wilson drag, and there are multiple rambling inner monologues of Riley wishing she’d never been taken and wondering what her life would have otherwise been like – things that didn’t really need stating, because who would be grateful that they were kidnapped? (Not discounting Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, of course).
But when there’s a lot going on (such as a fire towards the end of the novel and Riley getting involved in a car accident and almost drowning) the scenes are very brief and are hardly explored. The important scenes are rushed and it’s disorienting. This is a book trying to deal with first love, family relationships, friendship, suicide, PTSD, and actually attempting to wrap it all up at the end with a epilogue… It might have been better if there’d been less included, to make the things that were – such as the brilliant discourse regarding pharmaceutical treatment vs. counselling trips in dealing with mental issues – more effective.
‘The Dollhouse’ feels more NA than YA, so if you’re a younger reader and don’t feel comfortable reading sexually tense scenes then you should avoid this one.
However, if you’re interested in reading a novel that’s a bit more mature and unflinchingly tackles serious topics, this is the one for you. The beginning is very high octane but the pace quickly diminishes, making it a slow burner – don’t expect to be flying through this novel, because it does take a bit of work to get it finished.
It’ll also appeal to you if you’re a fan of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ – ‘The Dollhouse’ is a very similar concept, even if only for the first couple of chapters.