Monday, July 1, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones
Holly Black
Middle Grade
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013
244 pages (hardcover)

“Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her.

"But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.

"Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?”

The summary of Doll Bones was enough to interest me right away. I’d heard it was a book that managed to be truly creepy, and I was excited about the prospect of a genuinely scary story.

Doll Bones turned out not to be that story. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good book. It just isn’t the spooky read I was hoping for. To be fair, the target audience of Doll Bones is, I would say, middle schoolers, and maybe to a 12 or 13 year old it would have seemed scary. (Then again, as a seventh grader I had a lot of friends who loved the movie The Ring, so maybe not.) One reason I couldn’t buy into the creepy stuff was that Zach, the main character, is very aware of pretending. Even when I started to think, maybe something is really going on here, his doubt kept me grounded, and that isn’t an effective path to fear.

So, Doll Bones didn’t work for me as a scary story – but as a story about friendship and growing up, it was great. I remember how lost I felt the first Christmas that I didn’t want toys. Because, even though I didn’t want little kid gifts, I didn’t want grown up gifts, either. The first years of navigating that in-between, adolescent phase can be really rough, and this book captures that experience perfectly. The true artistry of the novel is the way that Zach, Poppy, and Alice deal with this transition. Each of them experiences it somewhat differently. In Zach, we see the painful, but inevitable, loss of childhood. In Poppy, we see the hurt of feeling your friends leave you behind. And in Alice, we see the torment of being under a parent’s thumb, and also the sparkling possibilities of the future.

The last word: It didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, but Doll Bones managed something far rarer – a very true-to-life glimpse into the hearts of young teens.

Grade: B+

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