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Book Review: The Dollhouse Asylum by Mary Gray

Publisher Annotation: When the world is breaking all someone wants is safety. A virus that had once been contained has returned, and soon no place will be left untouched by its destruction. But when eighteen-year-old Cheyenne wakes up in Elysian Fields-a subdivision cut off from the world and its monster-creating virus-she is thrilled to have a chance at survival.

At first, Elysian Fields-with its beautiful houses and manicured lawns-is perfect. Teo Richardson, the older man who stole Cheyenne’s heart, built it so they could be together. But when Teo tells Cheyenne there are tests that she and seven other couples must pass to be worthy of salvation, Cheyenne begins to question the perfection of his world. The people they were before are gone. Cheyenne is now ‘Persephone,’ and each couple has been re-named to reflect the most tragic romances ever told. Everyone is fighting to pass the test, to remain in Elysian Fields. Teo dresses them up, tells them when to move and how to act, and in order to pass the test, they must play along. If they play it right, then they’ll be safe. But if they play it wrong, they’ll die.

The Dollhouse Asylum is many things, but at the end of the day it is a tale of obsessive love gone wrong.  It is, in fact, a twisted episode of Criminal Minds with some dystopian undertones. 

The idea that someone would take others captive and make them play this twisted game, take on specific personas, was fascinating (in disturbing ways obviously).  The teens, now in these personas, are forced to play a variety of “games”, hold parties, and more.  Breaking character is deadly.

Gray does a good job of slowly peeling away the layers of the menacing Teo.  In order for Cheyenne to be taken in, he must at first have the pretense that he is a safe, attractive guy.  But as things play out in Elysian Fields, Cheyenne slowly begins to realize the truth of who he is.  It is interesting to note that even after events unravel, Teo still has planted enough psychological seeds in Cheyenne’s mind that she still feels that she is partly to blame for the various events that unfold in Teo’s macabre world.  As a portrait of psychological and emotional abuse, Gray really captures the essence of what it is to be a victim and not fully comprehend the extent of your victimhood (which is possibly not a real world).  So when we read stories of people in abusive situations and ask, “why don’t they just leave?”, Gray helps to shed some light on that phenomenon.  It is, in some ways, an example of how Chris Brown can say he lost his virginity at the age of 8 and not realize that he was, in fact, raped at the age of 8.  At the end of the book I thought to myself, that girl is going to need some serious counseling.  Cheyenne is not always likable, she is definitely naive and needy, but I also think that Gray does a pretty decent job of showing how Teo used that, fed off of it, and twisted her in ways that it will be hard for her to break out of.  As far as villains go, Teo is up there with Warner from Shatter Me.

There are 7 couples in the story, and they are an interesting mix of characters.  I won’t reveal who they “play”, as that is part of the fun of the story.  There are a lot of twists and turns here, and this book is at times very disturbing.  Remember: a twisted version of Criminal Minds.  Think of some of the most disturbing episodes – like the one where the man takes homeless people prisoner in his “hospital”, that one – yeah, disturbing.  It’s not a perfect book, but fans of psychological thrillers and horror will not be disappointed.  3 out of 5 stars.

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