“Doll Bones” follows Zach, Alice, and Poppy, three BFFs who’ve bonded over their very imaginative afterschool games. The story begins with Zach’s dad telling the boy it’s time to grow up and hang around with guys his own age. Some spooky powers-that-be have different ideas, however. Poppy is visited by a ghost inhabiting one of her mother’s dolls, and this supernatural visitor puts the three kids together on a spectral road trip that will have to delay the cease-and-desist date for the children’s adventures.
I was really impressed by Black’s ability to make this book feel so realistic and contemporary while simultaneously maintaining an otherworldly tone. Zach, Poppy, and Alice are so relatable in their move from tweendom to their teen years, as they worry about popularity, the opposite sex, and the stresses of growing up. Imagine dealing with all of that while having a ghost demand you do her a favor! Despite having no supernatural experience of my own to back this up, it felt like Black accurately captures how this paranormal problem would affect those coming-of-age struggles.
What I loved most about “Doll Bones” is that this story is so much more than what it appears. On the surface, this is a story about a group of kids who are being haunted by a ghost. As the story unfolds, you see it’s really about the hardships haunting these children’s lives. While Zach, Poppy, and Alice confront the challenge this ghost has presented, they also confront the ghosts in their own lives, giving this book the best mix of undeniably creepy and tear-jerkingly heartwarming moments. The sudden shift between these conflicting emotions keeps you on your toes and turning the pages. Once you turn that last page, “Doll Bones” will haunt you in the best way!
Relatable protagonists moving from their tween to teen years.
A supernatural twist to the coming-of-age story.
Dolls are so creepy to begin with in my opinion, and paired with the history Holly Black has given them? Even creepier. The dreams that the characters have and the pieces of history behind the doll were the creepiest part of the story, but I was hoping for a little more creep throughout the rest of the book. Doll Bones approached the line I was hoping for, but never quite crossed it.
Zach, Poppy, and Alice all bring something different to the table - I loved the contrast between their personalities. The trio is at an age that is so crucial, so seeing the bonds of their friendship tested makes such a great story. As they go through their quest, their friendship has its trials, but really it comes out strengthened in the end.
There are a handful of illustrations throughout the book and I loved them. The ones featuring the doll were particularly well done, as I think they really added to the creep factor of the book.
I also must add that the fact that Zach's cat is named The Party was one of the best things ever.
Anyone looking for a good quest story that puts friendship at the forefront should pick up Doll Bones. It was unique and very good. It's a fast paced read that I read in about an hour and a half.
Doll Bones was not as scary as I thought it would be (thank goodness). If I had to classify it into one category, I think I would say it was more of a coming of age story than a ghost story. The creepy ghost living inside the doll was ghost was secondary.
The one thing that really set Doll Bones apart from other middle grades books that I have read was the believable emotions between characters. Holly Black did a great job showing the budding complexities of preteens. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have differing home situations, and each child has a reason for continuing the quest set before them. They are each at a very delicate time in their lives, where many things are changing and they don't know how to deal with those changes. This book has a great message about growing up and friendship. Any reader will be able to find something to relate to, regardless of gender.
It is also has a quick pace to keep a younger readers' attention. Without a steady supply of mystery and action, a younger reader might get lost before finishing nearly 250 pages. I felt like the various plots merged well together and kept the pacing on track. The ghost story helped fuel the quest and kept the characters engaged, which in turn kept me as a reader turning the pages.
Overall, Doll Bones is best suited for readers ages 10-12 (maybe I bit younger if they can handle the length of the book).
First of all, I just couldn't really get Zach's reasoning behind not wanting to tell Poppy and Alice about what his father did. I mean, it's something his father did so why did he feel so ashamed? I get that he's at the age where he might not want his best friends to be girls and for anyone to know that he plays make-believe with dolls, but it felt like anytime he talked about it he was only ashamed out of obligation. He still wanted to be friends with Alice and Poppy and continue playing their games so the whole problem just felt a little off.
The backstory behind the doll was sufficiently creepy but not much else worked for me. The doll mysteriously moves around sometimes and (for some seriously strange reason) other people seem to see her as a real person. Maybe I just wanted too much from it.
The Nutshell: I was sadly disappointed with Doll Bones. If you go into it expecting less creep-factor and more coming-of-age you might enjoy it a bit more. In the end, it just wasn't really my cup of tea, though.