Written by: Holly Black
Illustrated By: Eliza Wheeler Paperback: 247 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Fiction/Middle Grade
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .
Dolls creep me out. You know the ones I am talking about. The porcelain, eyes just staring sort of dolls. I think of the movie May where there is this doll that May cannot touch, it just stays in the glass. The Queen from Doll Bones reminds me of her. Actually quite a lot really. Maybe Holly loves that movie like I do.
When I was a kid my brother and I had some amazing adventures with his GI Joes and He-man figures along with my Little Ponies and She-Ra figures. Even now I still have my action figures, granted they don’t go on grand adventures unless they are hand painted minis and I am playing a game of tabletop adventuring. Though I suppose I do have little action figures re-enacting scenes in some of the terrariums I sell. The point is I relate even after all of these years. Even now I cannot seem to get rid of my figures. Some are in boxes (Star Wars, limited editions), some are out in pretty displays (Buffy and Lord of the Rings and Horror themed like my Countess Bathory figure). And some are tucked away for my children to play with as I once did (old Kenner Hall of Justice and Justice League figures). I wonder why I can’t let them go? In fact I would rather buy more fandoms. If I let them go does it mean I have to grow up?
Doll Bones introduces us to Zach, Poppy, and Alice who have been friends since they can remember. For years they have played with Zach’s action figures telling their stories of swashbucklers, pirates and the Queen. The three friends are growing up though and when Zach’s dad throws away his ‘toys’ because he believes Zach is too old for them, everything changes. If this is the end of their adventures Poppy and Alice convince Zach to join them for one more adventure with the Queen.
Things I loved: It is a story about growing up and it is one that I can relate to. I could also relate to Zach’s voice. It’s crazy how much adults tell children that they can longer be kids, that the things they love and are passionate about have no value. If you are a geek you completely understand this. Thankfully I have pretty cool parents and yet how many times does my dad still ask me why I love video games and comics and geek stuff and aren’t I a little too old for them (I think he believes that he will not have any grandchildren due to my refusal to grow up. I say give it time. E and I aren’t past our prime yet). How better would the world be if we told children to keep using their imagination, told adults how much value imagination really holds?
You are absolutely right that I am not your average 35 year old. I still have toys, I squee and fangirl over things, I dress up in costumes, and my business skirts may include little girls with At-Ats on leashes. My life did not end at 30. I do not have children nor am I married, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want them or have no desire to get married. I still daydream. I still wish on stars. And my life isn’t even half over yet. I don’t want to grow up the way society says I should have grown up. So yeah, the story resonated just a little bit.
The other way the story hit me was growing up with a group of friends. Life changes. And it doesn’t necessarily mean when you are 12. My college roommate, best friend, and another friend were thick as thieves all through University. Nothing could tear us apart right. We had routines of watching Buffy downstairs in the dorm, we went on vacations together, we told each other everything. Nothing was going to change that right? But you do some more growing up after University and lives change. People get married and have babies and then you live 600 miles away instead of in the same apartment. Of course growing up as an Air Force brat I was used to saying goodbye. But it never gets easier. Then again sometimes friendships just change. As you grow into the person you are going to be you find new interests, new ways of interacting, and new ways of looking at those people you spend so much time with.
In Doll Bones Poppy does not want anything to change, but Alice and Zach see things a bit differently. They want to see how things change. All three of them are that point in their life where they realize that adulthood is around the corner. You don’t want anything to change, and yet eager for it. Even now I wish I could go back to being a kid where I had an allowance and dint have to worry about rent and jobs and such. But at the same time I like being a big kid.
I love their friendship. Each has a unique voice and that is wonderful. When they finally embark on their last adventure which is to lay to the rest the Queen, I was happy to be along for the ride. And the great thing about the adventure is it could all be imagination (maybe a wild animal moved their stuff) or maybe the doll was haunted. Plus the whole doll being made up of the bones of a beloved daughter so reminds me of Red Violin (a fantastic film by the way). "Her clay was made from human bones. Little girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl's hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes." When it is an old Porcelain, Victorian doll it made it creepy and fun at the same time. You decide whether the Queen was real just as they do.
I liked that the real danger that the kids faced from their adventure really had nothing to do with the Queen, who could possibly be a ghost. It involved a creepy possibly predatory man on the bus, the perils of 3 12 year olds traveling alone at night, and trying to find their way to the old Doll Manufacturer’s place.
As I said before I liked the characters . I thought their voices were pretty genuine. One comment that Alice makes about the Queen is: “There can’t be a ghost, a real ghost. Because if there is, then some random dead girl wants to haunt Poppy, but my own dead parents can’t be bothered to come back and haunt me.” Ugh, the feels. More than that they weren’t your typical stereotypical kids. Zach played with action figures but also played sports, the librarian they meet had pink hair (whoo hoo), and Poppy feels like growing up is like dying. I get it, really I do. Again, more feels.
The illustrations are nice. Not as creepy as I wanted them to be, but that is because I am an adult and a horror movie freak. In short, they were just fine for the targeted age.
Things I didn’t love so much: I have a few quibbles, but they are minor. For the age demographic I think was a very good book, but for my own age it resonated in some ways and did not in others. It is far shorter than I expected and I kind of wish the dreams were described in more vivid detail. I wish we had more details on the Queen as that was a big hook for me.
I cannot tell you why I wasn’t as engrossed as I thought I would be. I am chocking it up to being a 30 something gal instead of a 12 year old reader. As I said overall this is a minor quibble and if I had any 12 year olds to recommend this to, I would.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. While not my favorite of Holly Black’s stories, this is still a wonderful little gem.
Part of: Stand Alone
Also Recommended: Read more Holly Black: Modern Faerie Tale series with Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, the Curse Worker series that begins with White Cat, and the Coldest Girl in Coldtown (which I will be reviewing shortly). For another growing up and ghost story Neil Gaiman’s the Graveyard Book is excellent as well.
3.25 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks