Doll Bones by Holly Black is the kind of book I usually avoid. Because dolls are creepy, and bones aren’t much better, and the doll on the cover belongs in an insane asylum. But, well, everyone kept saying how wonderful it was, and it’s been awhile since I’ve read a truly satisfying middle grade novel (Fourmile doesn’t count–it’s too close to YA). I’m happy to say the attention is well-deserved. I won’t bother summarizing the plot, but here’s what worked:
- the horror aspects took a backseat to the story, as they should.
- Zach, Poppy and Alice have more imagination than I ever did. The Game felt like one long never-ending story, one that’s both a masterpiece and utterly believable as something created by 12-year-olds. They’ve obviously benefitted from Holly Black’s prolific imagination.
- geeks will be rewarded. I loved every mention of Lord of the Rings, Taran Wanderer and the missing trusty steeds.
- a book about dolls, told from the POV of a boy. Crosses every boundary set by those who believe in distinct “boy” and “girl” books
- Holly Black put a lot of thought into the difficulties of modern quests. I’ve often wondered about the practicalities myself, so it was a thrill to read passages like this:
Adventuring turned out to be boring. Zach thought back to all the fantasy books he’d read where a team of questers traveled overland, and realized a few things…
Aragorn never wore sunblock. Taran never wore sunblock. Percy never wore sunblock. But despite all that precedent for going without, he was pretty sure his nose would be lobster-red the next time he looked in the mirror.
- it’s classic middle grade fiction. What could be more quintessential than a literal quest for identity, and the turmoil of leaving childhood hobbies behind? We’ve all experienced what Zach, Poppy and Alice go through, whether it’s with dolls, video games, outdoor games, etc. (but not books, obviously).