Doll Bones is written by Holly Black. It was published in 2013 by McElderry Books. Black’s website can be found here.
“Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity…”
I knew next to nothing about this book before I read it, although I suspected, given Holly Black’s other works, that it was a fantasy/supernatural book. So, when I started reading it, I thought, “Hmm, this is a neat little book. It’s a coming of age story.” Cue Zach’s dad throwing out his action figures, cue me thinking, “Yep, coming of age.”
Then the Queen came in, and things got really creepy, really fast, leaving me looking like this:
But the great thing about this book is that, despite the creepiness of it, it’s still a coming of age story. And the supernatural element is the type, like I mentioned way back when I reviewed Frost, where it could actually be just a natural explanation. The Queen’s not a ghost, it’s just the kids’ active imaginations and the circumstances that the weird stuff occurred. Or is the Queen really a ghost, after all? It could be either, which is what I like about this type of supernatural story. There’s also a subtler, supernatural element to the kids’ game, as well, although again, that could be explained as just a product of their active imaginations and storytelling skills.
For an MG novel, it gets really grisly at the end. Like, blood and murder grisly. It also just fuels the “dolls are creepy and will come alive and eat your face” fear. And the moment when the story goes from “La dee la, coming of age, poor Zach is sad,” to “BONES AND ASH IN A DOLL” creeped me out, so it may very well scare a younger person.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Supernatural, Realistic, Middle Grade
“Her bones?” he finally echoed.
“Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?” Poppy said, tapping a porcelain cheek. “Her clay was made from human bones. Little-girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.”
“Your blond friend sounds pretty hungry,” he said, coming out from behind the counter with a pink-glazed donut on a paper plate. He placed it down in fornt of the odll. “Here. On the house. It’s Pepto-Bismol flavored. We’re trying it out to see if it gets on the regular menu.”
As the man walked back into the kitchen, Zach could only stare after him. “Did he—?” Zach whispered.
“It was just a joke,” Alice said quickly, but she looked nervous. “You know, because we had a doll. He was pretending it was real.”
Doll Bones starts out as a cute coming-of-age story, then very quickly transforms into some sort of doll Nightmare Fuel supernatural story, with the coming-of-age still quite prominent in all the doll creepiness. But despite the grisliness and the Queen, Doll Bones communicates the “growing up but not leaving all of childhood behind you” message quite well.
You can buy this here: Doll Bones