My Rating: 5 stars
I picked up Doll Bones looking for a fun, easy read by an author I enjoy, and it ended up becoming my favorite Holly Black book ever. Zach, Poppy, and Alice are best friends who love to play make believe featuring pirates, magic, and quests. When Poppy claims her doll is haunted, they set out on a quest of their own to put the murdered girl to rest. First off, let’s get something straight. Though this book is shelved on Goodreads as fantasy and horror, it really isn’t either. Yes, there is a spooky, magical element to the story, but it’s fairly understated and not at all the main focus. The story is about the growth our characters go through; it’s a coming-of-age story with a hint of the paranormal.
I loved Zach, Poppy, and Alice. Zach is our narrator, so I felt I knew him best of the three, but Black does a great job crafting all three of them. Poppy is particular jumps off the page. They all feel like real kids; they’re all heavily flawed and can be kind of bratty (especially Poppy). But it’s understandable and relatable because they’re just trying to muddle through this process we call growing up. They’re in that awkward place between being kids and being teenagers, starting to develop crushes and whatnot but still playing pretend in an imaginary world. I really appreciated this portrayal because I was a kid like that; my best friend and I played dolls and make believe into high school.
The book as a whole is really a love letter to storytelling, which I adored. The kids are basically D&D players without realizing it. I loved how invested they were in their characters and story, and as a former make believe player turned writer I related to it so much. There are also tons of references to classic fantasy literature, including Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, which was lots of fun. I particularly loved Zack musing on how fantasy books never cover the boring parts of traveling and how Aragorn never got rocks in his shoe or needed sunblock. It’s a book written by someone who loves stories for people who love stories, and that’s what makes it so delightful.
Overall, Doll Bones is an excellent coming-of-age tale about quests, stories, and friendship. It’s written for a middle grade audience, but it is just as enjoyable and relatable for adults.