Rummanah Aasi
  The Newbery Awards were announced earlier this week. Flora and Ulysses, a novel I thoroughly enjoyed was named the winner and Holly Black's spooky middle grade fantasy, Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor book. While I didn't enjoy Doll Bones as much as Flora and Ulysses, I still think there is a lot that young readers will enjoy: an action packed adventure, a ghost story, and a little hint of romance.

Description: 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.

Review: Doll Bones is a middle grade fantasy that also works quite well as a creepy ghost tale that delivers the ever-changing nature of friendship, the price of growing up and the power of storytelling. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends ever since they were little and enjoy spending their time in their joint creation, an epic role-playing saga of pirates and perils, queens and quests. As they approach 12, their interests are changing along with their bodies.
  When Zach's father trashes his action figures and commands him to "grow up," Zach abruptly quits the game even though a large part of him doesn't want to. Poppy begs him to join her and Alice on one last adventure: a road trip to bring peace to the ghost possessing her antique porcelain doll. The ghost is supposedly a princess who was brutally murdered and her soul has been transferred into the porcelain doll. While Zach is reluctant to join the adventure, his draw to the adventure and one of the girls takes over and he changes his mind. As they travel by bus and boat (with a fateful stop at the public library), the ghost seems to take charge of their journey--and the distinctions between fantasy and reality, between play and obligation, begin to dissolve.
 The book moves quite slowly at first, but once the trio go on their journey and the tale of the porcelain doll is slowly unraveled, the pace picks up quickly. Black packs both heft and depth into a deceptively simple narrative. A lot of the metaphors glide their way into the story and you don't really notice it until much later. Each of the characters are given time and space to talk about their own family issues from Zach's bitter relationship with his father to Anna's chafing at her overprotective grandmother to Poppy's resignation with her neglected relations, however, I really wished these relationships were further explored. While we see the trio complete their journey and the fate of the porcelain doll, I was left wanting to know what happened next. Spooky, melancholy, yet ultimately hopeful, Doll Bones is a story of that confusing time when adolescents shed of their childhood innocence and jump into the murky waters of adulthood.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and violence that is associated with the doll but they are toned down a bit and take place off the page. Recommended for strong readers in Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn, Spellbinder by Helen Stringer
8 Responses
  1. Most of the reviews of this book I've read are pretty apathetic, or negative. I guess I should read it and judge for myself. Thanks for the review!

  2. Jenny Says:

    This sounds like a really interesting read Rummanah, I love the premise and the focus on the fact that the kids are in a bit of a transition period between child and young adult. It's too bad the various relationship aren't explored a bit further, but all in all this seems like a solid read!

  3. I still don't know what to think of this one. It is getting such mixed reviews... argh! I will try it one day.

  4. I knew it would be creepy. Dolls often are and in Holly Black's hands I figured it would be creepy. I do want to try this one. Was bummed when I was rejected for reviewing it.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I had this one and started it but had to set it aside and I never went back to it. Now after the Newbery awards and your review I want to give it another try. I love stories about finding your way from childhood to adulthood and the growing pains that come with that, and it's wonderful when those kinds of stories are mixed with fantasy, especially creepy fantasy. Lovely review!

  6. I like Holly Black's writing a lot but wasn't sure if she could reign herself in enough to do an MG book. She is so good with YA, but very intense. I think I'd like this one. I'm glad you reviewed it.

  7. Aylee Says:

    Hmm, yeah I recall reading some mixed responses about Doll Bones so I'm a little surprised it was a Newbery Honor book. I do love how creepy it sounds and I really like Holly Black's writing, but it's too bad that it was lacking in certain respects. Now, Flora and Ulysses - you know, I don't recall hearing about that one so I will have to look up your review.

  8. I haven't really heard much about this one, Rummanah, although I think the cover is kind of creepy. I loved Black's The Curse Workers series but haven't read any of her novels since then.

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