consuming, sharing, and reviewing books for children
Early on in the Newbery season, there always seems to be an early favorite. Usually that book receives a lot of praise, and then a lot of criticism. Wonder and Okay for Now are just a couple of examples. Right now, Doll Bones seems to be that book. Holly Black, in true fashion, has infused both creepiness and heart into her new middle-grade novel, and readers seem to love it. The book is truly enjoyable, a spooky mystery with a mix of adventure that keeps you engaged until the very end. Black even manages to pull off a coming of age story in the midst of everything, and in fact this seems to be the crux of the book.
Zach and his two friends Poppy and Alice have played “the game” for years, a role-playing adventure game (action figures included) which allows them to escape into their characters Lady Jaye and William the Blade on a quest handed down from the Great Queen. At twelve-years-old, playing with dolls is a little unexpected, but Black makes it surprisingly believable through her characters remarkable imagination and child-like qualities. However, this is where my issue with the book begins.
I can accept that 6th graders are playing with action figures, and I can accept that they are still fascinated with make-belief; but the adventure that follows seems contradictory to these child-like qualities, and many of the situations become a little too convenient. To go from a group of kids who meet on a daily base to play with dolls, to a group of kids who sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, camp in the woods, steal a sailboat, break into a library, and steal bikes all to bury a doll came across as a little drastic to me; however it was incredibly fun and fully engaging.
For me, Eleanor was the highlight of the story, and I was absolutely fascinated with her backstory, so much so, I wanted more. Eleanor was a crucial character in this book, but I didn’t feel she was developed enough. I loved her elusiveness, but I would have liked more history about her and her family, to really bring her to life. For me, she was always just a doll, and I think Black was aiming for more. Similarly, I was never able to fully separate Poppy and Alice’s characters; however, Zach’s character, his tween awkwardness in particular, was well defined and fully developed.
Finally, I never felt authentically spooked as I did in Splendor and Glooms, The Graveyard Book, or Coraline, so I think this left me most disappointed. Most of my issues with Doll Bones are simply a matter of taste more than any true faults with the book. I really enjoyed the story, and I think kids will love it.