Doll Bones

by Holly Black
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Poppy set down one of the mermaid dolls close to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea.”
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Zach is 12, a pretty good student, on the basketball team, kind of popular. And his two best friends are Alice and Poppy. Having girls for best friends isn’t a terribly unusual thing, except what they did was play games. Specifically: one long, elaborate imaginary game with dolls/action figures.

But they’re too old to be playing those sorts of games, right? Zach’s dad thinks so, at least, and in a fit of bad parenting, he tosses out all of Zach’s action figures. Which sets forth a chain of events that involve Polly unlocking the Queen — a very old china doll her mother won’t let them touch — and then being visited by the ghost of a dead girl. It turns out that the Queen is made from the bones and ashes of a girl long since dead, and who wants to be buried in a nearby town. Which lead to the three friends sneaking out in the night, going on one last, final Quest to fulfill the Queen’s wishes.

I should say, first off, that I was assuming this book would be creepy. Like Coraline creepy. It wasn’t, at least not for me. There are ghosts, there are close calls, and weird circumstances and people, but it didn’t get my spine tingling. I’m actually grateful for that, because I was able to focus on the more poignant story: that of the painful — for some — transition from childhood to young adulthood. It’s not a transition I made easily (I went kicking and screaming, actually), and I’ve noticed the bumps and bruises from that transition in M and C. Black handles it beautifully. The awkwardness, the feeling of being left behind by close friends, the desire to hang on to the things of childhood, the insecurity of facing the future: they’re all there. Dressed up in a Quest, an adventure, a ghost story. Maybe kids won’t pick up on it, but I do hope some do. I would have loved this book as a 10 or 11 year old, loved knowing that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I did about getting older.

Oh, and as another side note: A and I were talking the other day about how in adventure books they never stop to go to the bathroom. Or get common colds. Or get sunburned. I loved how Black addressed that:

Adventuring turned out to be boring. Zach thought back to all the fantasy books he’d read where a team of questers traveled overland, and realized a few things. First, he’d pictured himself with a loyal steed that would have done most of the walking, so he hadn’t anticipated the blister forming on his left heel or the  tiny pebble that  worked its way under his sock, so that even when he stripped off his sneaker he couldn’t find it. 

He hadn’t though about how hot the sun would be either. When he put together his bunch of provisions, he never though about bringing sunblock. Aragorn never wore sunblock. Taran never wore sunblock. Percy never wore sunblock.

And because of all that, I love this one.

2 thoughts on “Doll Bones

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