Growing Up Through a Ghost Story

Doll BonesI saw Doll Bones by Holly Black make the blog rounds recently, and I knew it would be a perfect one for RIP…because what’s spookier than a haunted doll?

Zach, Poppy and Alice love playing the Game, an ongoing adventure story full of pirates and magic.  But they’re coming right to that age where it’s not cool to play anymore–and Zach’s father puts an end to things by throwing all of Zach’s action figures away.  Unwilling to explain what happened, Zach just tells Poppy and Alice he doesn’t want to play the Game anymore.  And then Poppy announces she’s been visited by a ghost, sent by the Queen, a creepy antique doll they cast as ruler in the Game.  The Queen wants them to go on a quest…

One aspect of this book bothers me immensely.  I’m always annoyed when characters refuse to simply tell each other things, and instead create massive amounts of unnecessary confusion and conflict.  And I really don’t see why Zach had to keep his secret.  However.  Setting that aside…

I love the theme of coming to terms with growing up.  In a sense it’s a Coming-of-Age story, but not in a Hero’s-Journey way.  It’s more a struggle with Peter Pan, with being forced to grow up when there are things about childhood that you don’t want to lose.  Zach is the primary focus, but all three kids have that struggle.  Alice looks the most mature (and I love a moment when Zach sees her from a distance and realizes that, if he didn’t know her, she would look like a teenager) and that pushes her into having to deal with more mature interactions.  Poppy feels like Zach and Alice are growing up without her, while she still feels the same.

I love the uncertainty that persists through most of the book, as we don’t really know if there’s actually something magical going on, or if Poppy is making a last bid to hang onto her friends and the Game.  Even while we don’t know if it’s true, a thoroughly creepy ghost story is revealed in bits and pieces as the book goes on.

I found all three kids likable and believable, and all of them had real, relatable problems–without this ever turning into a “troubled teen” book.  It stays upbeat and positive, but with real-world trouble as undercurrents.  I’d really like a sequel about Poppy, as I feel like there was more to explore with her especially.

The book winds up very satisfying…and while I won’t give the details away, the kids did reach a good place about growing up–and realizing what you don’t always need to let go of in the process.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Assorted Leafs
Never Ending Stories
Reading Rants
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Doll Bones

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