Sunday, March 6, 2011

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block

Block, Francesca Lia and McClintock, Barbara. House of Dolls. 61 p. HarperCollins. 2010. Hardcover $15.99. ISBN 9780061130946.

I KNOW! This isn't a YA book. But it's written by a YA author! I was straightening up a display in the children's section today, and this gorgeous cover caught my eye. Upon flipping open the book, I knew I couldn't resist it when I landed on this passage:
The dolls wandered through their house crying out,
“Where is the lemon-yellow satin chemise?”
The bejeweled green silk strapless mermaid evening
gown with the tulle tail?”
(p. 35)
Swoon! These luscious costume descriptions would have won my heart as a child, and let’s face it- they have the same effect on thirtysomething-me.

Where IS my lemon-yellow satin chemise, indeed?

Ahem. Anyway.

In classic Francesca Lia Block fashion, the prose is in turns spare and lush, with a distant, fairy-tale-like quality. It's wistful, strange, and beautiful, centering around themes of love, loss, and healing. Barbara McClintock's black-and-white illustrations are delicate and intricately detailed, a perfect complement to the text. The plot is simple: a little girl feels alienated in her own home, so she makes life miserable for her dolls, and then one of the dolls makes the unselfish wish that the girl may feel loved by her family.

This book poses a bit of a puzzle in terms of the intended audience. It was ostensibly written for children, but there is depth in this story that seems aimed at an older reader. I suspect a child will understand that there is more here than pretty dresses and teacups, but they may not dwell on it. It depends on the reader; they might absorb the underlying complexities, or they might prefer to simply enjoy the lovely descriptions of dollhouse accessories. An adult or teen, on the other hand, is more likely to linger on matters such as the horrors of war, the loss of a child, and the ways in which grief changes a person. At the same time, the older reader can unabashedly revel in the beauty of the dollhouse, too. I think this book can be enjoyed on both levels, and it's utterly beautiful either way. It might just be the perfect read-aloud for a mother and daughter.

I read House of Dolls in one sitting, and am still thinking about it hours later. Francesca Lia Block really knows how to cast a spell over a reader.


  1. I love descriptions of pretty dresses too. Will have to check this one out! I think that's why books I normally wouldn't read have ended up on my to-read list simply because it had a gorgeous, glamorous dress on the cover. :o)

  2. I am totally a sucker for beautiful costume descriptions. Illustrations are a plus, too. Can't resist!


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