Author: Miracle Austin
I first met Miracle Austin in Tyler, TX during East Texas Book Fest 2015. The first thing that attracted me to her booth was the artwork for her YA novel Doll. It showed a young girl pressing a pin into a doll's head. So yeah...voodoo. I was intrigued, as the artwork clearly stood out among most of the other books being presented. Never underestimate the value of good cover art.
Miracle and her husband were awesome to talk to. I didn't pick up Doll at the time, but I got her business card so I could check out her writing later.
As it turns out, her booth was right next to ours during the Longview Library's annual Chautauqua Festival. It was a blustery day at times, so we both endured the wind, having to secure everything down with masking tape. Good times! Miracle and I traded Doll for What Happened On My Space Vacation (I got a good deal there). It is cool to read a book, but it's even cooler to make a personal connection with the author--especially one like Miracle. Her writing may delve into the shadows, but Miracle is super nice and positive and encouraging in person. Exactly the type of person you want for your booth neighbor!
After connecting with her on Facebook, it became apparent quickly that her genre interests are eerily similar to mine. Horror movies. Check. Anything by Stephen King. Check. The Strain. Check. She provides a handy list of her favorite movies on her website if you want to see how you line up. That she has From Dusk Till Dawn on there is, by itself, enough to make her a top-shelf person in my book.
My review of Doll:
You know that Stephen King story Carrie, about the prom queen with telekinetic powers? Well, what if she wasn't the one being bullied? What if she was the bully? This is the twist in the tale that Miracle Austin weaves in Doll, a YA teenage novel placed on the stage of high school with set dressings by way of voodoo.
Our main characters: Tomie, Sari, and Opal are being constantly harassed by one of their peers--Pepper. This tyrant-in-training seems to have unusual amount of influence in the lives of our protagonists--enough that they eventually find themselves taking extreme steps to deal with her. If it reminds you of a Tales From the Crypt setup...well, it should. And that's a good thing, as all good Crypt stories are morality plays Ultimately, Doll doesn't end up where a Crypt story would, but that's how Ms. Austin keeps us all guessing how things are going to end up. Speaking of that, Doll has a very unusual addition to it in that it also includes an alternate ending for the book. So, if you don't like one, you can always choose the other and have that be the ending in your mind. (The first ending is a lot stronger, which is probably why the author chose it! But hey, you get to decide this for yourself.)
The story is a complete, standalone story, but there's clearly room to continue these characters and to truly deal with the consequences of the events and actions that occur. If the end of a novel completes a story, but leaves you wanting to know more about those characters, then I'm pretty sure an author would count that as a success. That's really how I felt at the end of this one. I have solid intel that a Doll sequel is in the works.
One thing I found very interesting is the lack of focus on skin color in the novel. Often, characters in stories end up being defined solely by their skin color, regardless of how else the author describes them. Ms. Austin handles her descriptions with a grace and a deftness I've rarely seen in this area. Personally, I think this is a great lesson for writers--you can bludgeon your reader with facts: "her skin was white" or "her skin was brown" or you can actually describe what really makes your character who they are. Would that everybody was treated and judged for who they really are rather than the chemical qualities of their skin. To be sure, at least one of the characters in the novel is what we would all call "racist," but Ms. Austin illustrates this character's prejudices through their actions and never has to resort to putting a name on it. Basically, she assumes her readers are intelligent enough to figure things out (they are) instead of having to hand-hold them through everything. This is often a fine line to walk, and it's done rather well here in my opinion.
I tore through Doll, as it is an easy read with lots of dialogue. The book is age appropriate for teenagers--and perhaps even lower, as the book does not contain any swearing or graphic sex or violence. If you read it with your teenager, Doll brings up plenty of topics to discuss with them. The novel doesn't get super dark. Some people may feel uncomfortable with the voodoo elements, and I can understand that. If you're comfortable watching any Disney movie with magic, then you really shouldn't have any problems here. I'd feel 100% comfortable reading this with my teenage daughter and then having some meaningful discussions about the events in the story.
The version I read had Ms. Austin's short story "The Triple Dare" in the back. It's a creepy, unsettling read. Perfect to read...and then probably sleep with the lights on.
So yeah, check it out. It's worth a read.
If you want to listen to a dramatic reading of two of her other, more adult horror shorts, you can hear those and an interview with her over at the Wicked Library. Do it. It's free, and you can listen to it on your drive home from work.
Parts of this post are in my Amazon review of Doll.