Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: Doll Bones - Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Genre: Middle Grade, supernatural
Published on May 7, 2013
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 247
Read From: 7.7.13 - 7.8.13

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they've been playing one continuous, ever-changing game - a game that takes place in a world populated with pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over them all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll imprisoned in a cabinet, cursing those who displease her. 
But the three friends are in middle school now, and Zach's father is pushing him to give up make-believe for basketball. When his father gives him no choice, Zach quits the game and lies about the reason. It seems like 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 her bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave. 
And so 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 is there something more sinister at work? Has Poppy been telling the truth, or is she tricking them into playing a new game? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? The cover is very creepy - dolls are disturbing! So in the case of this book, I totally judged it by its spooky cover. And I wasn't exactly disappointed; just not quite satisfied.

Characters: For a relatively short book, there is an amazing amount of character personality and development exploration. I found Zach and Poppy to be very sympathetic characters, as they both face growing up in their own ways. Zach is feeling the pressure of giving up make-believe from his dad and basketball peers, since make-believe is "solely for kids" and he's going from kid to teen. Meanwhile, Poppy is watching her two best friends grow up and she doesn't understand why they must give up the game along with it. All kids have faced this before, including me, and it makes it very easy to connect with Zach and Poppy's struggles. I didn't like Alice quite as much, and I think it's because I didn't see her struggle as clearly. She seemed to accept growing up pretty easily and was, quite honestly, a bit jerky and a wet blanket in this book.

The Romance: There's a mild crush between Zach and Alice, but it doesn't take center stage.

Plot: For most of their kid lives, Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played together, inventing wonderful lands and adventures. Presiding over their magical world of pirates and lost treasure is the Great Queen, an antique bone china doll who is all-powerful and dictates the characters' quests. But when Zach's dad throws out the figures that are Zach's characters in the game, Zach is forced to admit that he can no longer play the game. Unwilling to tell his friends the real reason why, because he then will have to face the truth himself, Zach claims he no longer wants to play. But one night Poppy tells her friends that the bone china doll has spoken to her, and claims to be possessed by the spirit of the girl whose ashes were used in the making of the doll's bone china. The Queen promises them no rest if they do not return her to her resting place. Together, the three friends set out on a road trip that doesn't turn out as smooth as it begins. All the while, Zach isn't sure he believes Poppy. Is she just weaving together another fantastic story to keep him and Alice playing? Or is the doll really alive with a malevolent spirit? Either way, he wants to see the quest to its end, if only to avoid the truth for just a little longer. So when I first picked up Doll Bones, I rather figured that it could go two ways: 1)it could be super spooky with a spirit-possessed doll, or 2)it could become an inspirational story about kids having to face growing up. It was something of a mixture of both, and I liked and kind of disliked it at the same time. Because I had struggled a bit with giving up kid games when I had to grow up, as I imagine most people do, I was able to appreciate the more inspirational part of this story than I normally would be. Growing up is both a tragedy and an adventure, bittersweet and unavoidable. I cried several times because I connected so fully to Zach and Poppy. But at the same time, when a story promises a spirit-possessed doll, one expects it to be creepy. And there were some spooky parts, as the Author offers hints that maybe Poppy isn't kidding her friends at all. But I also thought that it could have been a lot spookier, even while still being perfectly all right for middle graders to read. I expected more malevolence from the doll, and it just wasn't quite there.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. I would have liked it if it had actually been in first person, from Zach's point of view, but I still enjoyed it in third. The style was nothing special nor was it bad. It was simplistic but enjoyable.

Content: None.

Conclusion: When the kids go on their journey, they go without their parents' knowledge. Alice's overbearing grandmother would never allow it, Poppy's workaholic mother doesn't really care, and Zach is too angry with his father to care what they think. So they are on borrowed time. Their funds are running low, Alice is a second away from turning back, and even Zach is beginning to lose faith in their quest. Of course, the Reader knows (in general) how it will all turn out. It's one of those stories where you can just tell pretty much from the beginning - and once you accept that the doll isn't really going to do anything bad to them or anyone. I found the end to be rather bittersweet. I liked that the Author never confirms whether or not the doll is actually a dead girl's spirit or if Poppy was fooling her friends the entire time, just to get one last good adventure out of them. And of course because growing up is unavoidable, it ends on the sad note that one simply must accept that it is going to happen. So Doll Bones wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I wasn't expecting to like the inspirational aspect and I wasn't expecting the supernatural aspect to be so benign. Did it disappoint? Not exactly. It was a good weekend read - and anyway, dolls are creepy in any situation, so how can you go wrong?

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read, really any age. This is one of those middle grade books that adults will enjoy more than the intended age group. Good for fans of inspirational middle grade reads and people who find dolls creepy.

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