“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.”
Doll Bones by Holly Black
I am a fan of children’s fiction that is scary. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite books. When I saw, Doll Bones by Holly Black, the cover screamed creepy children’s book. I requested the book on Netgalley, and I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the book to read.
Doll Bones is about a quest to bury a porcelain doll that is made from a human child’s bones. The ghost of the child is tied to the doll and she demands that Poppy lay her to rest, or else. The problem? Poppy is twelve and the doll wants to be buried with her father in East Liverpool, which is several hours away with a very limited bus service (one in the afternoon and one late at night). Poppy ropes her two best friends, Alice and Zach, into joining her on the quest and they steal away in the middle of the night. Their journey is less than smooth, with a crazy man on a bus, sleeping in the woods, stealing a boat to cross a river, breaking into a library; all while trying to avoid being caught. Will Zach, Alice and Poppy be able to lay the doll to rest before they are caught? What will the doll do if they fail?
I had expected Doll Bones to be as creepy as Coraline, but Doll Bones fell short of my expectations. There were creepy moments, for example, when the doll moved on its own or where the doll almost seemed to take control of the children at certain points. I also liked the mystery surround the doll, i.e., whether there really was a ghost attached to the doll or if Poppy was just imagining things, and whether the doll really was responsible for some of the things that befell the children or if there was a logical alternative explanation. However, I wanted more. I would have been satisfied with more creepy actions from the doll, or even for the ghost to be more present. In fact the ghost was pretty absent except for appearing to Poppy that first night to demand Poppy lay her to rest with her father (who created the doll of his daughter when she mysteriously died), or the few times the adults commented about the children’s “blonde friend”. I may have wanted more because I am an adult reading a children’s book. However, I think that the book will most likely be creepy enough for children, although many children adore Coraline, and it is much creepier.
The predominant focus in this book is on how Zach, Alice and Poppy react to transitioning from children to teenagers. At the start of the book, they are all playing make believe with dolls. As the book progresses, it is clear that the three friends beginning to grow up. Zach is forced to grow up by his father when he throws away all of Zach’s toys and he gets into basketball. Alice is noticing boys and getting into drama. Poppy is the friend who is still clinging to being a child. She wants to continue playing make-believe and she doesn’t want her friends to grow up. For example, at one point in the book she says, “‘I hate that you can do what you’re supposed to do and I can’t,’ she wails. ‘I hate that you’re going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying’”. I think children will really relate to this, but I didn’t find it that interesting. I think because Poppy is pretty melodramatic about this process, “dying”. I also think that because my sister was younger than me, I stopped playing make believe before she did so I haven’t experienced what Poppy has. I suspect that it isn’t like dying though.
The book has a consistent pace, but it’s fairly slow throughout. There wasn’t any part of the book where I was racing through the pages to find out what was coming next, but there wasn’t any part of the book that I felt was awfully dull. It is a nice and easy read if you want something to relax to.
I found the plot and the characters very realistic. I really felt like this was a true story being told. I thought that the characters represented twelve years olds really well. They acted like twelve year olds. That’s impressive actually because in many of the books I have read, the character either acts too young or too old for their age. I think these children will appeal to children who read the book because they are on a quest, most children like the idea of, and they break the rules; they run away in the middle of the night, steal and even break in to a library. I’m not sure how parents will feel about their children wanting to be like Zach, Alice and Poppy because of their rule breaking, but I think children will love the characters for that very reason.
I was a little disappointed with the ending. I expected more from the ghost or the doll. As a result, the book kind of just suddenly ended because the quest was over. I would have liked a little more punch. I did like that Holly Black left a key question hanging – was there actually a ghost or did the children have an over-active imagination? There are a few facts that I don’t think the children would have known on their own, so am leaning towards yes, but just a smidge of uncertainty is nice. It will get the children thinking.
Final Verdict: The book wasn’t creepy enough for me, but the book is intended for children, and I think children will really like this book.