Review: Doll Bones

Doll Bones

by Holly Black

Find it at: Your library | Amazon | Indiebound

Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster for Young Readers (May 7, 2013)

Recommended reading age: 9 & up

In a nutshell: I picked up Doll Bones by Holly Black not knowing what to expect and without having any prior knowledge as to what it was about. I’ve seen a few reviews pop-up here and there, but I admit I didn’t read them. Not so much as a skim. Actually, I couldn’t get past the cover and the image of that eerie doll. For awhile, every time I saw it, it would send shivers up my spine.

I prefer to read books this way. Cracking the spine having neither expectations nor any idea what it’s about.

I’ve been terrified to write this review as I don’t want to reveal too much. Now that I’ve read it, when I read synopses online I feel like they reveal too much. So, this is what I’m going to do. In this review, I’m giving you the option to opt out of learning anything more about this book so that you can enjoy it in the same way I did. Diving in unknowingly. If you choose this option, go pick up a copy. It’s spectacular. Holly Black did a masterful job. Doll Bones is as hauntingly beautiful as it is riveting. That’s all you need to know.


For the rest of you folks who like a little insight before you commit to reading a book, or have had the pleasure of reading Doll Bones already, let’s talk.

Zack, Poppy, and Alice are best friends. In most ways they’re like every other middle school-er, little budding identities with their fair share of insecurities- but they also harbor a secret that makes them different for other kids at their school; they still play with toys.

But it’s more than that. They have fabricated an entire fantastical story filled with pirates, thieves, mermaids, and deadly quests, using old Barbies, action figures, and anything else they have accumulated over time. Behind closed doors they become their characters and it was as real to them as anything. Out of all the toy accomplices in their tale, there is one doll they do not play with. Poppy’s mother found an old doll at an estate sale and is convinced it will make her rich one day. Poppy is not permitted to even touch it, but nonetheless the old doll, “the Queen”, made her way into Zach, Poppy, and Alice’s stories.

All is in jeopardy when one day when Zach’s dad decides it’s time for Zach to grow up. Turmoil spawns within the group, and the trio’s story looks to be coming to an abrupt end. That is until Poppy has a startling dream about “the Queen” that launches them into an entirely different story, a real-life quest to put an old ghost to rest.

I’d had an advanced reader’s copy of Doll Bones on my nightstand for a good 5-months before deciding to give it a shot. What took me so long? That freaking doll on the cover; with her droopy, pathetic one-and-a-half-eyed stare. My husband likes to say that I’m “easily affected.” Translation: I’m a wuss. I wanted to read it, but that doll made me nervous. When I was in fourth grade, I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. She was older than me naturally I thought everything she did was cool. We watched Chuckie that night and I had nightmares for a year. Around that age I also owned quite a few Madame Alexander dolls. They were gifts given at Christmas or on my birthday, but they rarely were played with. They stood on a my dresser in their upright stands and I would faun over them occasionally, but they mostly went untouched. I could barely look at them when the lights went out. I finally decided to give Doll Bones a go when our library received the audiobook version. For some reason that was less intimidating? Once I started listening ,about half-way through the book, I tore through that neglected ARC that has been sitting on my nightstand. While the audiobook version is fantastic, I wasn’t patient enough to listen when I could read the book at twice the speed.

Other than my initial doll phobia, this is a coming-of-age tale really hit home for me. I played with toys throughout middle school and had an extremely hard time giving up my imaginary worlds. Leaving your childhood behind is hard, especially when peers and parents are encouraging you to “just grow up”. The thing I love the most about Zach, Poppy, and Alice’s story is that it tells kids that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to leave anything behind. Sure, growing up is a natural part of life, but telling a story is a universal that can be done at any age. And if you are able to create a story with friends, what a valuable and unique experience that is to have.

Holly Black captures the limbo of adolescence perfectly. The prose is pitch-perfect. Evocative, filled with heart, and a dash of ghoul, Doll Bones is easily a best read of the year and one that will delight readers of all ages for many years to come.

Don’t take my word for it: “Creepy and atmospheric, this story has just the right amount of horror mixed in with a good deal of adventure and friendship.” – review from Abby the Librarian

Extras: Visit Holly Black on her website.

Source of book reviewed: Advanced reader copy provided by the publisher AND audiobook from my local library.


5 Responses to “Review: Doll Bones”

  1. Danzel says:

    This one is on hold for me at our library right now! So frustrating to have to wait until Monday to pick it up! (The library is closed on Sundays though summer…)

  2. Belinda says:

    I just finished this book yesterday—it had been awhile since I’d read a book that I didn’t want to put down.


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