He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies.
Friendship. Make believe. Action figures, dolls, magic…
All a part of childhood.
All expected to be let go of in young adulthood. Growing up can be a time of happiness, excitement, and expectation. It can also be a time of fear, sadness, and letting go. Holly Black uses her story to touch on all these themes, with excellent effect.
Zach, Poppy, and Alice are going through the pains of growing up and are now approaching those awkward teenage years. Friends for most of their young lives, they have constructed an elaborate world of queens, pirates, adventure, magic and heroism. Their realm is ruled by a porcelain doll they call The Queen, a figure owned by their mother, that they are forbidden to touch. (You know those old, creepy looking porcelain dolls everyone’s grandmother owned? That always looked like they were watching you with their creepy, creepy wicked eyes? It’s that kind. She’s creepy and the kids know it.) The book opens on a scene of their play and it shows what a rich tale these three friends have created and what a marvelous relationship they have enjoyed. I loved this, mainly because it reminded me so much of my own childhood and I find joy in watching my own children construct their own magic worlds.
Their play comes to an abrupt end when Zach comes home from school the next day to find out that his father has thrown away his action figures, believing he’s doing what’s best, that it’s time for Zach to grow up and move on to more age appropriate things. Zach is, of course, devastated. Worse, he doesn’t know how to tell the girls their game, their world, is over. Being young, Zach doesn’t know how to share his pain with his friends, so he decides not to. He just tells them he’s not playing any more. I wish I knew how to talk about all the things this made me think and feel. I felt so bad for Zach, having his story, his life, torn away from him in such a violent manner. And then for the girls, to loose Zach in much the same way, with no explanation…it’s just heartbreakingly sad. That it’s just over…but then Poppy decides it’s not. She tells Zach and Alice that the doll, the bone-china of her mother’s is possessed by the girl whose bones make it up and she, the Queen, wants them to send them on a quest. The Queen has told her, and only her, Poppy, that they must go on a quest. A quest to bury her-the doll-in the girls’ grave. The three of them must bring the game to an end, says Poppy, by finishing the story and burying the Queen. Oh, and also avoid the curse the Queen says she will put on them if they don’t.
“Did you know that bone china had 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.”
The doll. The little girl possessing her. Trapped. Trapped inside the doll, just like these kids are trapped in a world that wants to force them to grow up, to be grownups, to be the guy, be the girl, be the captain of the football team, be the cheerleader, be the things everyone expects them to be. Is it any wonder kids get angry around age 13, 14, 15? Their whole worlds change and they don’t know how to deal with it.
“No, you’re right,” Poppy said, her voice speeding up and getting louder, like she was afraid she was going to be cut off before she got it all out. “It’s not fair. We had a story, and our story was important. And I hate that both of you can just walk away and take part of my story with you and not even care. I hate that you can do what you’re supposed to do and I can’t. I hate that you’re going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I’m next.”
So, the three go on a quest. But it’s more than just a quest to bury the doll. It’s also a quest to see, will they grow up? Will they still be friends? How will this all end? Is there any magic still in their world or has it been stolen forever? The answers are, well, there for you to find out.
I have loved Holly Black’s work ever since Tithe came out. The way she continues to grow as a writer is breathtaking to me, and in my opinion, she is reaching new heights with each book. Her writing is subtle and wonderful, her prose just gorgeous. The atmosphere in this novel is vivid and sometimes gave me chills! That doll! So creepy! This one has a special place in my heart; for her tender treatment of these kids, for all kids, and their fears, their awkwardness, their joys, their magic. This is such a delicate age! It makes me worry for my kids, especially my magical daughter-so innocent and pure and honest. I’m dreading the day something happens to damage that. Doll Bones is, in my opinion, just brilliant and not to be missed.
For more thoughts (and probably better phrased than mine because they made me think SO MUCH about this book!), see the following reviews:
Ana from Things Mean a Lot, Angie from Fat Girl Reading, Waking Brain Cells, and Ana at The Book Smugglers
By Holly Black
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books / Doubleday Childrens
Published: May 2013
Review copy from NetGalley