Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Zach has two friends he’s known forever, Poppy and Alice. Their favorite thing to do after school is to hang out at Poppy’s house and play with action figures and dolls, creating a fantastical world of adventure and magic with their alter egos. But when Zach's toys get thrown away by Zach's dad (who thinks it’s time for Zach to grow up), Zach is so hurt by the episode that he decides it’s easier to just stop being friends with Poppy and Alice.
Of course, that wouldn't be any fun if that was the end of the book. Despite the rift in their relationship, Alice and Poppy show up at Zach's house late one night with a doll. A creepy old china doll that Poppy's mom normally keeps locked up in the china cupboard. Poppy claims that’s she’s being haunted by the doll, a doll whose china body was supposedly made from the bones of a dead girl. With Poppy's urging, the three friends set out on a nighttime clandestine trip to discover the truth of the doll's creation, and hopefully bring the girl's spirit to its final rest.
From the cover you would think this is pure ghost story, but it’s really not. It's more about Zach's journey from childhood to being a teenager, and trying to navigate how his friendships are changing because of him growing up. There's also a great deal about Zach trying to process the relationship with his father, and especially dealing with the expectations his father has about how grown up he should be.
Of course, there's a ghost story aspect to it too. The history of the doll and the gruesome creation (that may or may not have actually happened) add a dash of creep factor and mystery to the otherwise (relatively) normal adventure of the friend’s journey and relationships. The haunting is more of the "is or isn't it" kind, so throughout the book you're never really quite sure if the doll is haunted or everything is just a strange set of coincidences. It adds the perfect prickling at your neck atmosphere to what would otherwise be a quite serious story line, while being safe enough that it should not scare younger readers.
Part mystery, part coming of age, part quest/adventure, part haunting (or not), Doll Bones is a great story for younger readers who enjoy more complex stories than straight fluff series books. Oh, and the creepy illustrations are a perfect addition to the story too.
Now, if you're in the mood for a story about a really haunted doll/dollhouse, you should also check out my review of Sweet Miss Honeywell’s Revenge.
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