They say nobody does spooky like Holly Black. Oh, boy, were they right.
In this middle-grade fantasy by Holly Black, Doll Bones delivers a bittersweet combination of friendship, growing up and the price of story weaving.
And a ghost.
Zach, Poppy and Alice are best friends, a friendship which feeds on the worlds created in a role-playing saga of pirates, queens and quests. But they are growing into teens, and keeping up with the game is getting in the way of more mature pursuits. Zach particularly feels torn between his facade as a popular basketball player and the fun of their childhood games. When his sometimes-estranged father comes back into his life looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the family dynamic, he takes irreparable action against Zach’s ‘unmanly’ playtime pursuits. Zach, devastated and embarrassed, cannot face telling his friends why he can’t play anymore. He pulls away.
In their effort to tempt him back to the game, Poppy and Alice risk more than just a parental scolding when they steal the coveted fine-bone porcelain doll from her glass cabinet – something inside the doll is ready to come out and play.
On the venture that follows, Zach, Alice and Poppy band together through squabbles and scares to lay a ghost to rest.
Black creates compelling characters. All her characters are three dimensional, not props only there to push the story forward. Zach’s mother wants to be the perfect magazine mum with home-cooked dinners over meaningful conversations, but only when her husband is there to notice. His father slips in and out of their lives and doesn’t seem to know what role he should play in his own home. Black has the extraordinary gift of seeing the world through a child’s eyes, and the adults she creates in her story are genuine.
I was significantly affected by Zach’s emotional struggles. Black has captured the teenage boy mentality beautifully and makes her insight appear effortless. His fluctuating friendships with his childhood friends cause him very realistic angst that is so relatable it hurts.
Black skilfully outlines the varied backgrounds and unique contributions each of the trio brings to their friendship and makes each one relatable and real. She is a powerful story weaver, threading through enough doubt to make you wonder what is real and what isn’t. That I spent most of the book questioning whether Poppy was telling the truth is a high compliment – it’s not so easy to fool an adult reading a children’s book.
Everything about Doll Bones was flawless. If you’re looking for something spooky and sincere, Doll Bones is the perfect book. I could not recommend it more. If I can leave you with only one more thought to entice you to go out and find a copy for yourself, let it be the blurb.
My name is Eleanor Kerchner.
You can call me the Queen.
I died in 1895.
Now it’s time to play.