Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black
A doll that may be haunted leads three friends on a thrilling adventure in this delightfully creepy novel from the New York Times bestselling cocreator of the Spiderwick Chronicles.
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?
You know how you see a lot of hype about a story (or a movie) and they you see it and it just didn’t really live up to that hype? It happened to me when I saw the movie BIG. Everyone went on and on about how side splittingly funny it was and when I saw it, it didn’t live up to the hype. It was a touching movie that I enjoyed, but I didn’t bust at the seams with laughter. That’s what happened for me here. There was so much hype about how SCARY and CREEY this book was. So here’s the dea: I thought this was a great book about friendship and adventure and growing up, but it didn’t scare me at all. There were no chills, no tense moments, no need for me to sleep with the light on. So, if you are looking for SCARY and CHILLING, this may not be the book for you. However, for the record, my Tween saw the cover and refused to read it because it looked too scary so I may be totally wrong about the scary part.
BUT . . . if you are looking for a good Middle Grade book about friendship and the changes we all go through in middle school that can be difficult to navigate, this is a great title. Zach, Alice and Poppy are all forced to deal with changes in their feelings towards themselves and one another (spoiler alert: someone has a crush!), new roles, and what it means to grow up. Their friendship is tested, as is the wonders of childhood imagination (and it is in this that Doll Bones excels!). For Zach in particular, there are some interesting parenting things happening as even his parents ponder what it means to grow up (and make some horrible parenting decisions).
In many ways, Doll Bones is a storytellers dream because it is all about the childhood wonder of playing and telling stories and how we hold on to that – or let it go – as we slowly become adults. For the record, I was still playing Barbies with my best friends in Middle School. The ghost stuff is subtle, and open to interpretation, which I think is part of what makes it less scary (for me). Is the doll haunted? Or is this just one last ditch effort to try and hold onto the story and friendship? (My 2 cents, I’m actually going with ghost). There were a few spot on scenes with the ghost story, like the looks the doll seems to give (dude those eyes that open and close are fantastically creepy – so see, it is creepy) and the comments of some of the adults about the doll, but in the end, the ghost isn’t the point of the story, the quest and the relationships are. Although this wasn’t what I thought it would be, it was a fun, touching read for all of us trying to hold on to those last few moments of childhood. Definitely recommended for J and MG collections, they will love it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Doll Bones, Holly Bones, Middle Grade Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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