Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll by Thomas Kingsley Troupe
Publisher: North Star Editions | Release Date: Sept. 1, 2019 | Pages: 136
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There’s not much in this world that frightens me more than dolls. You’ll never find me in the same room as one. Seriously, I’ll kick it until it is somewhere I am not. So, when Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll popped up on my review list I had to face the very real possibility of changing my email address, my Twitter account, and any other forms of communication that’d allow Mike to tell me I owe him a review. But, I’m a professional, so I poured a ring of salt around my bed, added a few lights to my room, got a flamethrower, and dug in. I survived with only a few nightmares to tell you that this young adult novel from Thomas Kingsley Troupe is a delightful gateway horror story. Troupe balanced the line of being just creepy enough to keep the reader on edge while not totally scarring a kid for life.
I’m not as well-versed in YA novels as I used to be, I don’t know the trends or what is popular with the YA audience. However, I do know a good plot when I see one, and Troupe sets us up with a tight story that moves along at a good clip. He quickly introduces us to what the conflict is and then let’s it play out. We have a one hundred year old creepy doll (Robert the Doll) in a museum, known to be a bit of a mischief maker that will curse anyone that doesn’t ask for permission to take its picture. Add into this mix our main character, Alejandro Padilla (AL), who isn’t buying this curse nonsense, so of course, he takes a picture of the doll in a sailor suit while insulting it. As you can imagine, the rest of the book follows Al as he deals with a string of bad luck. Is it Robert or is it just a coincidence, you decide.
Troupe based this on a real doll. Ugh. You can find him in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida if you are so inclined. Troupe took these very real legends and weaved them into Al’s lesson of believing museum tour guides. Reading this fact at the end of the book did put a little chill in my bones, but at the same time fascinated me. People believe in the curse and blame Robert for their bad luck. In Troupe’s book he has the cursed write letters to the doll apologizing for their mistake. Now, I don’t know if that is based on reality, but if it is, I feel like I need to see this. I mean, can you seriously see yourself writing a letter to a doll?
Troupe does admit to ramping up the effects of the curse, I’m guessing to help cement the fact that dolls are super creepy and should not be trusted. As Al’s luck begins to sink into the bad category we can believe that is simply his guilt. How else would an old doll locked away in a museum know how to break a combination lock or hack a computer? But, as his luck starts to reach critical levels we have to wonder if maybe there is a bit of truth to the doll being alive. Robert hangs out in Al’s front yard, trashes his house, even calls down the lightning during a big football game. This might be directed towards the YA crowd, but there’s no way you are going to sleep when you hear about the doll sitting at the edge of Al’s bed or hear his gross little feet in the hall outside of Al’s room.
The only hard thing I had a hard time buying was the message of the book. I think it was that you should always listen to museum curators. If Al had simply followed the rules and asked permission he wouldn’t have had to deal with the curse. But, this is a bit of a weird message to send to middle school students. Maybe there isn’t a message and the book is just here to be scary. Yet, it reads as a warning about the dangers of not listening to your elders. Al is clearly dealing with his self-conscious and the fallout of his actions. There isn’t really any other conflict or thing Al is struggling with that might explain why this is all happening to him. The book works on a horror level, but if this was going for a cautionary tale I think it fell a bit flat.
I am always looking for gateway horror stories to share with the younger generation. I had Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Goosebumps, and Stephen King (I jumped head first into horror pretty early). Troupe’s story about a freaky doll fits right into that category. While I am not the audience for a YA novel, I had a lot of fun with Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll and found a new reason to be terrified of those devil toys. If you are looking for a way to scare your kids, you wouldn’t do wrong handing them this.