Literature / Behind the Attic Wall

Behind the Attic Wall is a children's mystery novel written by Sylvia Cassedy in 1983.

Troubled twelve-year-old Maggie Turner has been thrown out of more boarding schools and foster homes than she can remember before she's sent to Adelphi Hills to live with her stern aunts and silly uncle. Maggie refuses to give anyone or anything a chance until she begins to hear voices...voices calling to her from a secret spot behind the attic. What she discovers there seems like a couple of ordinary dolls who soon become the most important things in her world...and who teach her the most important lesson of her life.

Tropes include:

  • Alpha Bitch: Maggie imagines her new classmate Randi will become this.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Deconstructed. The girls in Maggie's new school are all beautiful, and all of them hate her (largely because she stole from them on her first day of class). Yet as Maggie learns to love and trust again, people note a marked improvement in her physical appearance: she gains weight, her face is rosy, and her hair is no longer lank and oily. By the end, some of the pretty classmates have tentatively struck up friendships, and at least one is genuinely disappointed when Maggie leaves the school.
  • Blessed with Suck: While Maggie being "chosen" by Timothy John and Miss Christabel end up improving her emotional life in the long run, it doesn't help her much at the time. Nearly every interaction gets her further and further in trouble with the great-aunts.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Maggie never sees the dolls again and loses Uncle Morris, the only relative who seemed to care for her and wasn't only interested in scolding her. But she's adopted by a family who loves her, and is shown having loving interactions with her little sisters.
  • The Chosen One: Maggie, to the dolls
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Uncle Morris plays silly word games and takes every thing so lightly that even Maggie becomes infuriated with his ability to never answer a straight questions—especially when she suspects he knows more than he's telling her.
    • The dolls. This is kind of excusable, since they haven't interacted with anyone in decades and believe it's always the same hour of the same day, forever.
  • Creepy Doll: Though they're completely benign, Timothy John and Miss Cristabel can come off this way.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Subverted. While the story depends on Maggie being orphaned, it pretty realistically depicts the life of an orphaned foster child, particularly in Maggie's emotional baggage.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Uncle Morris. Subverted when Timothy John and Miss Christabel appear to die, but come back on Maggie's last day at Adelphi Hills.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Maggie
  • Follow the Leader: Takes a lot after The Secret Garden, only with talking dolls instead of a magic garden.
  • Go to Your Room!: Harriet and Lillian's favorite punishment
  • Happily Adopted: Maggie at the end of the story
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Timothy John and Miss Christabel's dog Juniper
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: The great-aunts are health conscious to an uncomfortable degree, even filling the candy dishes with celery hearts and wheat-germ cookies.
  • Let the Past Burn: (Rather brilliantly) subverted. Rather than being freed from the past by the fire, Timothy John and Miss Christobel appear to have been trapped there forever, unable to either remember the event or move forward.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Or so we think.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-universe, the aunts believe Maggie has crossed this by stealing a china ballerina to give the dolls as a present, cutting up a silk scarf for party decorations and accidentally causing a small fire in that spot behind the attic. And she skipped their party to have the doll party, too!
  • Not Good with People: Maggie
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: It's briefly hinted that Uncle Morris was "never right since he came back from the war," although he seems to have become a playful Zen Survivor.
  • Pet the Dog: Harriet and Lillian give Maggie a baby doll to play with in the beginning, then later on treat her more gently after Uncle Morris dies, despite being enraged with her.