Let’s face it. Most china dolls are creepy to begin with. But when you imagine they may be actually alive and orchestrating some sort of possibly-evil plot? Then you’ve got Doll Bones by Holly Black, the spectacularly spooky new middle grade adventure about three friends on the cusp of adolescence — embarking on one last adventure.
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?
Doll Bones is as much about the shifting relationships of Zach, Poppy, and Alice as it is about the story of the doll. The friends are growing up, and Black poignantly displays the murky years when you still want to play with toys, but you also start to notice how cute that boy or girl is, and think about kissing and dating. They are such hard times to go through, and are often even harder to define. But Black has masterfully painted a portrait of exactly what it’s like to experience that odd transition from childhood to adolescence.
Adding to the charm of Doll Bones — and creating that oh-so-important creep factor — is the mystery of the bone china doll, for which the three friends embark on a quest together. These kids are reckless and irresponsible, and I can see some parents cringing at the behavior and worrying if the book will set a bad example. But let’s be honest. Kids already have these ideas. If anything, Doll Bones shows how disastrous such carelessness can be.
At the heart of Doll Bones is the creepy mystery of the doll — and it’s this mystery that keeps pulling the kids back together through their adventure and all its mishaps. It’s also a captivating thread that will hook readers and keep them turning page after page.
It’s also worth mentioning the gorgeous illustrations by Eliza Wheeler — who carries along the creepiness of Black’s writing throughout the novel with lovely images. (She also nails it with that perfectly detailed and creeptastic cover!)
Doll Bones is just a delight, from start to finish. It’s wonderful for middle grade readers to tackle on their own, but I can just as easily see parents (or teachers) reading this along with kids — or teens or adults just reading it on their own. Look for it in stores May 7th.