Josie and her little sister, Anna, have moved with their mom to stay with their grandmother in a small town in the country. Josie is worried about starting a new school and her grandmother's deteriorating mental condition, which leads to her giving the girls some strange rules like no dolls in the house and never visiting the woods. After a rough start, Josie makes friend at school, Vanessa. But there's something a little... odd about Vanessa.
After much, much, much foreshadowing, it turns out that Vanessa is actually a childhood friend of their grandmother's. She's been preserved as a doll, sent out to lure more children into the terrifying house in the woods by Beryl, another childhood friend who is an evil witch. Josie eventually manages to defeat the witch and save her sister and the other children who were turned into dolls, but Vanessa (and the other children) return to their true ages and Vanessa disintegrates into ash and... magic. But Josie's grandmother starts recovering almost immediately and Josie now has real friends in school.
There was a LOT of atmospheric shadowing, but it was pretty obvious from the beginning that there was something off about Vanessa. Everything was quickly resolved at the end, except perhaps for the children who returned to their true ages and then had to explain where they'd been for so many years? This is never addressed. The plot felt pretty tried-and-true and I can see it being pushed aside by my horror fans who want really scary books.
Verdict: Kids who want mildly scary fare will enjoy this, but it's what I'd pick as a backlist title, if you need more books in a certain genre. It is only a little over 200 pages which is a bonus for readers who are reluctant to dive into the massive tomes that seem to be popular today.
ISBN: 9781338212242; Published 2018 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium