If you are doing a book review of Dollhouse Book #1 for a school assignment or book group, this is a brief study guide.
Being that Dollhouse is a mystery, not too much can be given away. The below guide references layers of meaning that don’t give away the main mystery, and you can read it without the risk of spoilers
If you’ve come to this page by accident and want to know if you need to know all of the below to understand Dollhouse, the answer is absolutely not!
What is Dollhouse about?
Dollhouse is about a fifteen year old girl (Cassie) who desperately wants to stay the age she is, and never grow up. Cassie looks at her mother’s life – stressful job, failed relationships, reliance on antidepressants – and she doesn’t want to travel the road into adulthood.
The book asks:
Do those who most want escape end up imprisoning themselves?
Concepts of time are repeated through the book in different ways:
- How time passes in dreams (which is referenced in a scene where they discuss Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’).
- The grandfather clock where time is changed to suit.
- The circular time that Australian Aboriginals believe in.
- The inability to stop time (to prevent growing up).
Youth versus Adulthood
- Cassie moves from Miami, Florida to Barrington Tops, Australia – and at first hates it. Miami (beaches, sun, youth, Spring Break, college students, parties) is contrasted against the forests of inland Australia (deep, dark, cold, mysterious, impenetrable, ancient).
- Youth living the life of the elderly when they are forced to live in confined spaces (The horror and terror of having your youth drip away).
- Cassie versus the adults – her mother, father and Lance.
- Cassie finds it hard to understand the points of view of either her mother and father. In the Dollhouse story, many people make mistakes, and Cassie has to learn how to deal with her feelings about those mistakes. This theme will be continued into the next Dollhouse books.
- The person Cassie ends up being hardest on is herself. She has to learn how to forgive herself her own mistakes.
Interior versus Exterior
- Above-ground versus below-ground environments (Example: Trees above the ground versus their root systems below the ground)
- The persona people show versus their real selves.
- The book asks – Do we draw things and people to our exterior worlds that mirror our interior thought processes?
- The adults in Cassie’s above-ground life are represented in the underground:
Her mother (Cassie sees her mother as forever stopping her from doing what she wants to do)
Her mother’s ex-boyfriend, Lance (“…the clown that turned our lives upside down” when he took Cassie and her mother away from their home and brought them to live in Australia, making Cassie feel trapped.)
Her father, Andy (Cassie barely knows her father. She sees him as both mysterious and pathetic. He has failed her as a father.)
(You will need to be sharp-eyed to figure out which characters represent Cassie’s mother, father and Lance!)
Coming of Age
- Cassie describes adulthood as an alien world: “Adulthood yawned far in the distance, so far I could barely catch a scent of its dry, colorless lands.”
- At one point, Cassie wishes the earth would swallow her. Life was simpler before she fell in love.
- When she does find her way into an underground space, the adults she knew beforehand are all there – only she doesn’t realize this fact.
- Within the story, there are mysteries about people that others figure out way before Cassie does. This includes a mystery about a person where there are such blatant clues that everyone else around Cassie has already figured it out, yet she fails to solve the mystery herself. Cassie hasn’t yet learned to look past external appearances to look at what is inside people. She is, in many ways, trapped within herself.
- The underground itself has expressions of childhood.
- Cassie takes a journey near the end of the book that can be likened to a baby’s journey through the birth canal, only the journey is completely Cassie’s choice and no person is there exerting forces on her. It is Cassie’s choice to grow up, head into the unknown, and face her fears.
- Underground spaces
- Trinket boxes
- Tree roots
- Being trapped within your own body – your physical appearance not being good enough
- Being trapped within your own mind – failing to see obvious things or truths, or failing to look
- Rosebuds that have not yet bloomed are physical signs of Cassie’s refusal to grow into adulthood.
- Roses bloom and then have their petals fall – which affirm Cassie’s sense that growing up means losing parts of yourself, dying.
- Water is an element in Dollhouse that relates to birth, or specifically, being inside the womb. But it always represents danger – the water is either dark, or cold, or something to be battled through.
- The womb is somewhere safe. But when the water is disturbed in some way (when the ‘water breaks’) it’s time to face the unknown.
Examples: There is light rain the day that Aisha disappears. Aisha disappears soon after slipping into a river. Ladies Well is freezing cold. Rivers cross each other. A snowflake melts. A waterfall.
- Cassie is afraid of the dark. This is a childhood fear, and relates back to her not wanting to grow past childhood. (This motif will be carried into the next Dollhouse books, as it is revealed why Cassie fears the dark.)
- The forest is pitch-dark at night, as are many places within the story.
- Darkness within people – people have sides they don’t often show others, if ever.