Thursday, October 31, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice know they are too big to play with action figures now that they are in middle school, but they have so much fun doing it, that it is hard to stop.  The whole story they have made up of pirates, thieves and mermaids revolving around the figure of the Queen, a doll made of bone china and kept locked in a cabinet in Poppy's house, is just irrestible.

All three players come from dysfunctional families so getting lost in the game has an added benefit.  It gets Poppy away from a messy, disorganized and undisciplined life at home, and it gets Alice away from an overbearing, overly protective grandmother and it gets Zach away from the home his father has recently returned to after a failure business venture.  Now that he is in middle school and on the basketball team, that is all his dad is interested in.

So when his dad throws away his action figures, including William the Blade, pirate and captain of the Neptune's Pearl, Zach is too ashamed to tell Poppy and Alice.  Instead, he tells them that he no longer has an interest in playing the game.  Both girls are baffled, but keep trying to get Zach back to the game to no avail.

Then late one night, Poppy and Alice convince Zach to go on a real quest.  The Queen has come to Poppy in dreams and told her that she was made from the bones and ashes of a dead girl named Eleanor Kerchner and that she would never reat until she was properly buried.

Carrying the Queen in Poppy's backpack, the friends decide to go on one last quest before they end their game forever.  And what a quest it is - a little fun, somewhat supernatural, a lot creepy, totally compelling.

I wasn't sure about reading this book.  In fact, I really didn't want to.  I just don't like creepy doll stories.  
But it really wasn't about the creepy doll as much as it was about the quest the kids undertake.  Thinking a short bus ride to another town will be easy enough, things don't work out quite a smoothly as they did in the planning stage.  First, they meet Tinshoe Joe on the bus who tells them that when the driver make a rest stop and gets off the bus, aliens abduct him and send back another bus driver.  Sufficiently creeped out by Tinshoe Joe, the kids get off the bus and run.  And then there is the baker who makes Pepto-Bismal favored donuts, and the librarian with the bubble gum pink hair.

Holly Black has done such a wonderful job of creating a game that felt as real and imaginative as any I ever played when my friends and I were young and recreating that wonderful feeling of being so swept up in the game, you forget about everything else around you.

Doll Bones is really a fun novel, but, actually, not far into the story, I realized that while the story has this totally eerie quality to it, what it really is about is the quest each of us must make as we leave childhood behind and come of age.  Well, with an exception.  Black has done something not many authors do - she has shown us that not all 12 year old mature at the same rate.  Poppy's desperateness about this last quest is really about her knowing that Zach and Alice are growing up and away from her, and she just isn't there yet.

Is Doll Bones scary?  Yes, it is, but so is growing up when you are 12.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. I started out thinking I would have no interest in reading this but changed my mind half way through your excellent review. It does sound creepy but also interesting.

  2. It actually is a pretty good book. And not a creepy as you might think, but definitely interesting.


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