Publication date: 7th May 2013
Published by: Margaret K Elderry Books
Genre: Fantasy/Horror (Children)
Oh wow! Doll Bones has to be one of the best novels I have come across in a while and it’s for readers aged 11+. Funny how so many of the books I have read and loved are aimed at children. Not sure what that says about me.
Doll Bones is for children who enjoy a good scare. It is the story of 3 friends, Zach, Poppy and Alice. They are united in their love of playing and together their creativity and imagination know no bounds. They use action figures as the characters that feature in their stories. I actually loved reading about their play adventures. Poppy’s mum owns an antique doll that is made of bone china which sits in a glass cabinet in her house. She is not supposed to touch it as it is considered to be valuable. There is something spooky about the doll and the children find it creepy. Sometimes Zach gets the impression it is watching him and is sure he has seen its eyes move by themselves. It features at the centre of their games as a powerful queen to be feared and respected and this helps to appease their fears (if they respect the doll it won't come after them).
Now that the friends are 12 they are increasingly under pressure to stop playing with toys. Zach plays basketball and fears that his friends will find out about it and make fun of him. His father, who he has a difficult relationship with, is annoyed with him for hanging on to his toys. One day he goes into Zach’s room and takes the toys away, throwing them in the garbage. Zach is horrified when he finds out and tries to get them back without success. This leaves him both sad and angry at everyone around him. He decides to deal with it by telling Poppy and Alice that he doesn’t want to play anymore. He argues that they are too old and need to grow up. They are surprised by this sudden change in Zach and are disappointed in him.
Zach distances himself from the girls and starts hanging out with boys his own age, doing stuff that boys his age are expected to do (video games etc.). One night while in bed he hears tapping at his window. At first he is too spooked to check it out but it persists so he has to investigate. He looks out and sees Poppy and Alice outside beckoning him to join them. He follows them to a secret hideout and Poppy reveals to him that she has been visited by the ghost of a little girl who has given Poppy a task she cannot refuse. Poppy’s mother’s doll was made from the bones of the little girl who died when she was about their age and she needs it to be buried with her if she is ever to rest in peace. Poppy wants Zach and Alice to help her accomplish this. It involves travelling to a town in Ohio where the girl’s body is buried. Although Zach doesn’t believe the ghost story, he sees this as an opportunity to get away from his father and considers not coming back. He make a bargain with the girls to go with them if they agree to stop asking him why he does no want to play anymore or involve him in the adventures they used to make up together. They agree and set out on their journey…
For me Doll Bones is about that pivotal point in a child’s life when they have to let go of their childhood and accept young adulthood. Zach is not ready and he feels a sense of shame because of it. I think this is why he is so angry and does not want to tell Poppy and Alice what really happened. It's too embarrassing to speak of. It resonated with me because I was just like Zach at 12*.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better contemporary writer of Children/YA fiction than Holly Black. She is magnificent.
*See my B-Spot blog post Grow up? for further info.