Dolls are creepy. Porcelain dolls are really creepy. One possessed by a ghost goes to the top of the list of creepy. If that still isn’t enough for you, add in a graveyard, ghost-invaded dreams, and various inexplicable noises, winds and odd people. Now are you creeped out?
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been best friends for years, years counted by the imaginative games they have played throughout, with pirates and queens and thieves and mermaids. The Great Queen has been their ruler, a vintage bone china doll that Poppy’s mom keeps behind glass doors.
But middle school brings changes. Zach has suddenly grown, and not only is he one of the team’s better basketball players, girls are starting to giggle when he walks by. He finds that a bit odd and disconcerting. But the games remain the same with Poppy and Alice, even though he feels he has to hide his participation in them when “the guys” are around. And his somewhat distant father, in an attempt to man him up, trashes his action figures while Zach sleeps.
Zach is 12. So of course he doesn’t want his best friends to know why he won’t play with them any more. Rational? Of course not. But who knows what goes on in the mind of a pre-teen boy? (I have two living in my house right now, and I am scared to venture a guess.) Poppy and Alice sense the change that is going on, and both fight against it in their own distinct way: Poppy tries to cling to childhood, and Alice just wants everything to be over.
The middle school years are the worst. You’re not a teen yet, you’re too old to be a kid, things are changing, there is drama in everything. Life blows. But seriously, if you have a creepy doll that is made from the body of a murdered girl, and possessed by her spirit, wouldn’t that change things? For the better? No?
Doll Bones follows the three friends as they go on what they hope will be an epic quest to free the doll’s soul. (Which is actually boring, ’cause there are no terrible monsters to battle, valiant horses to ride, Olympian food to eat, or even water to drink. There is a lot of boring bus rides and walking. The need for sunscreen is never mentioned when the Hobbits quest.) Along the way they discover things they didn’t know about each other, and get to the heart of the changes they are all experiencing.
Holly Black has written what is truly a coming-of-age story. The creepy doll and the ghost story are a fabulous background and framework for the absolute suckage it is to grow up and change sometimes. And it has the requisite road trip, so what else can you ask for?
When really scary is too much, this book is entertaining. A quick read with the right balance of creepiness and fun to capitvate any middle grade reader, and the parents.
Doll Bones is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books.