Miranda and her parents have just moved from New York to the small town of Garnet, MA, where her mother, Helen (a doctor), is opening a small private practice, while her father, Philip (a former teacher), will be unemployed while he figures out what to do next. They're moving into an old mansion that hasn't been lived in for 50 years. Why? It's a mystery!
Miranda and her parents love the house at first. But on the very first day, Miranda discovers an old dollhouse in the attic – an exact replica of the house. When she looks through the dollhouse's attic windows into the real attic, however, she sees a dressmaker's dummy and it's like, "Um, excuse me, my attic doesn't have a dressmaker's dummy." She looks up and finds, yes, this is correct – no dummy. WTF is that about? (Spoiler: it's a window into a different time in the attic's history. Cool, right??)
So the next day, Miranda is like, "Okay, let's check out that crazy dollhouse again." Sure enough, dressmaker's dummy again. She goes back and forth with this dummy shit for a smidge too long if you ask us. But then she looks through the dollhouse windows and what the fuck?!!! There's a blond, ringlet-haired little girl dressed in turn-of-the-20th-century clothes bouncing a fucking ball! Are you kidding me with this?! Miranda is transfixed and doesn't want to tell anyone what she's discovered. She starts spending all her time looking through the different windows of the dollhouse and finds that she's always looking at the lives of two different families.
The first dollhouse family is the Galworthys in 1904 – father Sigmund, mother Lucinda, and eight-year-old daughter, Dorothy (that's our ringlet-haired gal). Sigmund is a stodgy, sexist snooze, not a bad guy, per se, but a product of his time. He loves his daughter, but thinks his wife's place is in the home. Lucinda is a beautiful, bitchy ice queen who wants to be a lawyer and hates being a mother. We can tell this is the case, by the way she is sometimes prone to beat the hell out of Dorothy. Lucinda is an #ALLCAPSVERA in the 1st degree. Dorothy is ... well, she's blond and she's eight and she's sweet, but there's not much character beyond that. But we are obviously #TEAMDOROTHY and staunchly not #TEAMLUCINDA.
The second dollhouse family is the Kramers – father Andrew, mother Iris, and sons, the older Jeff and the younger Timmy. It's the early 1940s and the war is in full swing, so they've put black curtains on the attic windows because they don't want to get bombed by Hitler at night, which was a thing people had to worry about then. Andrew is nice, Iris is nice, Jeff and Timmy are nice. Whatever, they're boring, who cares. They only matter in the larger mystery of #ALLCAPSLUCINDA. But anyway, Miranda can look into their lives, but it's all in a jumble – she can't choose who she sees or when. Very exciting!
So Miranda's like watch watch watch all day, every day. And her parents try to get her out of the house and she's like, "LOL, no thanks, there's a time-traveling ghost dollhouse in the attic and everything else seems pretty dumb by comparison." And it's like, "Yeah, Miranda, we get you, but you goin' cray." But the thing is, she sees this very interesting scene where a dude named Donald comes in and kisses Lucinda and they're talking about running off together and leaving Dorothy and there's a quiet ping! when something falls out of Lucinda's coat. Verrrrry iiiiiiinteresting. And then what's this? Iris is getting mean and starting to beat her sons! What! Where is this coming from, Boring Iris? And she's like, "Fuck if I know! I am not in control of myself lately! It super sucks that I keep getting these headaches and beating my sons. I am not a fan!" Aaaahhhhhh!!
Finally, Miranda's parents force her to meet their neighbors across the street, the Hootens. Ha ha. The Hootens. Say it again! HOOTEN. Fun. And there's father Ed, mother Virginia, and sons Dan and Bobby. The parents names really don't matter, but I did it for everyone else, so it only seems fair. They run a Garnet museum out of their old ass mansion, which is how they afford to live there. Fourteen-year-old Dan is hella cute, but Miranda's like, "Sorry, dude. I only have eyes for dollhouse. I got dollhouse fever and the only prescription is more dollhouse." Oh, and then she has to start flute lessons with a Mrs. Wainwright who happens to be Dan and Bobby's great-aunt or something, whatever, who cares, not important. Turns out Miranda is really good at flute by the way, so that's fun. It's just like a fun detail that speaks to Miranda's character. Isn't it nice when a book has those? Not all these books do, you know. So anyway, Mrs. Wainwright is also basically the town historian. She's written books. The only way this really helps is that when Miranda reads the books, she finds out that the Galworthys and Kramers were real. This is helpful!
So then at some point Miranda's Aunt Belle, Uncle Willy, and cousins Simon and Anni come to visit because they're on their way to vacation in Yellowstone. (Sidenote: there are an awful lot of still-married parents in this book.) So they come and it's like, "Yay! Everyone in our world is nice and great!" NOT SO FAST, MOTHERFUCKERS! Because suddenly Belle starts acting fucking weird. She's like, "I have a headache, I won't have you playing with those street children and be called common and by the way, I'm going to try to beat the shit out of Anni." Whoa, Belle. Gosh, isn't this kind of like Iris? And like Lucinda? Mmmm, yes, yes it is. It did NOT take long for the house to work its evil Lucinda magic on you, did it, Belle? So Belle is like, "I am not in control of myself! It super sucks that I have this headache and tried to beat my daughter. I am not a fan!" And she's like, "Fuck this house."
Everyone is understandably freaked by this and the next morning as Belle, Willy, Simon, and Anni are leaving for Yellowstone, Belle is like, "Get out of this house, you guys!" And Willy is like, "STFU, Belle, you're nuts." And it's like, yes, but also could you back the fuck off, Willy? So they leave and then Miranda's best friend, Nicole, comes to visit from NY. And she gets there and Miranda's like, "Here's my house!" And Nicole's like, "Cool house!" But then she is NOT having the attic because she feels the bad energy coming from there. And Miranda ignores this for no good reason and is like, "No, come see the attic, so that I can then hunker behind the dollhouse and look through windows and ignore you." And Nicole is like, "Rude!!" So she runs off and like, tells on Miranda, which I personally find weird, but then again she is 13 and still kind of a baby.
Miranda apologizes and Helen's like, "Cool cool cool, I'll make everyone a grilled cheese sandwich." And she does, but then she's like, "Oops, Mandy, I burned yours." And Miranda's like, "LOL, why was it specifically mine?" And Helen's like, "Because it was the one without tomatoes and you hate tomatoes." And Miranda is basically like, "Tomatoes are my favorite food, what the fuck are you talking about." And Helen gets freaked out and runs off. And it's like, "WTF is this new weird thing about?"
So Nicole is there and suddenly Miranda's parents are fighting all the time. So they're all like, "Fuck this, let's all take Nicole back to New York." So they do and suddenly everyone is fine again. INTERESTING. But then they drive back and the closer they get to Garnet, the weirder Helen starts acting again, until at one point when they've pulled over to fight a bunch, Helen just turns around and fully slaps Miranda right in the fucking face really hard for no good reason! And not only that, but she was about to draw her hand back and do it again! Like, was she just gonna slap Miranda across the face over and over? THIS IS SOME LUCINDA SHIT AGAIN! So at this point you'd think Miranda would also be going, "This is Lucinda shit again," but she does not. Frankly, it is taking Miranda too long to put the pieces together.
So then blah, blah, blah, Helen starts getting all these headaches and picking fights and it's weird. Miranda leaves for her flute lesson and learns from Mrs. Wainwright that Lucinda and Dorothy were supposedly killed in a train wreck. Ooooh, sad. So Sigmund never went back to the house and stayed with neighbors and then just straight up left town and left the house to his nephew, Andrew Kramer. And then the Kramers left the house, but they were all alive, so that's good. But when the house was then left to Timmy and Jeff, they were like NO THANKS! And no one had lived there since. So Miranda goes back home and dollhouses it up again and there's Lucinda in the living room, smelling of magnolias because of her perfume. She looooooooves that fucking magnolia perfume. And the smell of it terrifies Miranda. So Lucinda's like, "Sigmund, I want to be a lawyer!" And Sigmund is like, "No, you're a woman and it's 1904 and I have rigid ideas about gender roles!" And she goes, "You're trying to keep me under your thumb! You think you own me! You try to stifle me, try to hold me down – but I won't let you. You can't keep me here! I am not your chattel!" Oooooh, girrrrrrl. You're evil, but you're also right. So she storms out and Dorothy comes in and is like, "I'm fucking terrified of Mommy, why does she hate me, she's making me eat tomatoes even though she knows they make me sick." Oh, shiiiiiiit! Tomatoes! So Miranda starts sort of admitting to herself that this is fucking weird and that the spirit of the Galworthys seem to be infecting every family that comes through.
The next day or a few days or whatever, at some point, Miranda wants to get away from the house and finally visits the Hootens again. And everyone is happy to see her and eating coffee cake. And they talk about the history of the town and she finds out that the houses in the area have secret rooms, so that they could hide runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad, which was very cool of them. And then they're like, "Oh, BTW, your house's secret room was airtight though and runaway slaves died because of it." Woof. So then Dan and Bobby show Miranda their secret room and they all want to go to Miranda's to find hers. And Miranda's like, "Hmmm, my mom seems to be possessed by a ghost, but sure, this is a good idea." So they go and they search and don't find anything. But then because Bobby was also skeeved out by the attic, Miranda's like, "Hey, maybe Bobby will see stuff through the dollhouse windows." He doesn't, so she's like, "Okay, byyyyyye!" And she hunkers down behind the dollhouse, but surprise! Dan's back and he's like, "Okay, I want to date you, WTF is up with this dollhouse?" And she tells him for some reason. And he's cool because he's like, "Okay, I don't believe it, but I believe you believe it," which is really the best reaction any one could hope for. So great, now they're basically a couple, which is cute.
So blah, blah, blah, Helen's pretty sure the house is possessing her and through the wondows Miranda's watching Iris get more and more Lucinda-like. It's bad. And the scent of magnolias show up now and then and the scent evokes fear every time. Every woman is going #ALLCAPSLUCINDA. Like, at one point, Helen even repeats Lucinda's "I am not your chattel!" speech and everyone is understandably confused because THEY MOVED THERE FOR HER PRIVATE PRACTICE, SHE HAS A JOB, WTF IS SHE TALKING ABOUT?? So then Miranda sees Timmy and Jeff locked in the attic one time because Iris said they spilled her perfume, and they see a crack in the floor and are like, "Oh, hmm, interesting," but instead of investigating further, they're like, "I'm cold, let's start a fire, what a good idea." So they accidentally set the attic on fire. Andrew and Iris run in and save them and then they're all like, "Fuck this. We're moving." Smart thinking, Kramers! But now Miranda is pretty sure that the crack they found was the opening to the secret room. She invites Dan and her dad to investigate and yes, this is correct. But WHOOPS DOROTHY'S MUMMIFIED CORPSE IS IN THERE.
So Dorothy wasn't on the train, Lucinda left without her, and possibly threw her in the secret room to die. It's unclear. So then it's like blah, blah, blah, maybe the house is turning the moms into #ALLCAPSLUCINDAS because Dorothy needs a proper burial? She and Dan try a quick seance in the cemetery and nope, wrong answer. So they try a quick seance in the attic and nope, wrong answer. And Miranda's like, "I bet it's that Dorothy should never have died." And it's like, "Whoa, bold idea, Miranda. But also yes, you are right." Then Dan leaves at some point. So she goes behind the dollhouse again and whoops! If it isn't fucking Lucinda yelling at Dorothy for spilling her magnolia perfume and then she takes a hairbrush and beats Dorothy with it. It's awful. Then she drags Dorothy up to the attic and locks her in! So now we know what that whole spilled perfume thing was about and why the heavy scent of magnolias is associated with fear. Very cool.
So Miranda sees the whole hairbrush beating scene, then she sees Lucinda go downstairs and guess who, it's Donald, and they talk about leaving and Miranda hears a ping! of something falling on the floor again and they're going to leave Dorothy behind. But now we know Dorothy's locked in the fucking attic! Jesus Christ, Lucinda! Okay, but, in somewhat her defense, she did think Sigmund was gonna come back and find Dorothy, but she's still a monster. She just didn't realize it would lead to Dorothy's death. FAINT PRAISE THOUGH. Then Miranda sees Dorothy locked in the attic and Dorothy comes around behind the dollhouse right where Miranda is in her time. And she's holding a crayon and she scribbles something. Oh, she just wrote "water" on the floor of the dollhouse attic (by the way, the word "water" was written on the floor of the dollhouse attic in black crayon, we knew that from the get-go and I forgot to mention it). So then Dorothy comes out from behind it and looks in the dollhouse window and DOROTHY SEES MIRANDA! And it scares her so much that she falls backward into the secret room (the hatch was open), the hatch closes, and now she's locked in! Did Miranda just kill Dorothy?! It's unclear.
I think at this point Miranda sees Dan again? And then he's gone and OH SHIT IT'S THE HEAVY SCENT OF MAGNOLIA and Helen goes all Lucinda on Miranda and starts yelling about spilled magnolia perfume and wuh oh, we've heard that one before, and she starts dragging Miranda up to lock her in the attic and throws her around and bruises her up and probably hits her, I don't remember. But it's scary. And the latch is broken, so it's fine, Miranda can leave, but she's like, "Uh, no thanks, I am not going back down to face her." Then she looks back in the dollhouse again and it's the hairbrush scene/Donald/ping! scene again! So Miranda's like, "Interesting, why do I keep seeing this scene, oh yeah, I bet that ping! was the attic key, I'm gonna go down and tear up the linoleum to get it in case I can somehow get it to Dorothy" And it's like, "Wow, very good thinking, Miranda. Good job." So she does that and it's very tense because we don't know if Helen is going to find her and beat the shit out of her.
But she does get the key without being beaten, goes upstairs, and is like where's Dorothy, where's Dorothy, no that's Timmy and Jeff, fuck them, they're boring, where's Dorothy? THERE SHE IS! So it's right when Dorothy heads over to write "water" and Miranda sets the key in the dollhouse hoping it will be there in Dorothy's time too. Then Dorothy comes back around from the dollhouse in her time and LOOK WHAT SHE'S HOLDING IT'S THE MOTHERFUCKING KEY CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE THIS?????!!!! So Dorothy whispers a very sweet, "Thank you, dollhouse," then lets herself out and leaves. And it's a little ... oh ... so, I guess that's over now?
So then Miranda goes downstairs and Helen is NORMAL AS SHIT and Miranda has no bruises and everyone's acting like she and Dan have a picnic planned, because Miranda now lives in a reality where Dorothy got out and Miranda never even had all those experiences! WOW! But then why would they live in the house now if Sigmund never gave it up, and the Kramers never gave it up, and the Kramer boys never gave it up? We don’t know, but we also don’t fully care because we like this book. So she goes and tells Dan about the whole experience and he's like, "I don't believe it, but I believe you believe it," because again Dan is a good dude. And Miranda's already sort of losing the memories. But then she goes to her flute lesson and oh, what's this? It's a girl her age named Susannah who has some blond-ass curly hair (ringlets, you might say) and she talks about how her grandma Dorothy is coming to pick her up AND YAY DOROTHY IS STILL ALIVE AND MIRANDA GETS TO MEET HER YAAAAAAAAY! But we don't get to see it because now it's the end of the book and while it would have been nice to see it, it probably wouldn't have been as good as what we could imagine it to be.
End of book.