“Poppy set down one of the mermaid dolls close to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea.”
Holly Black‘s Doll Bones (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2013) nabbed a Newbery honor and, being by Holly Black, i.e. one of my favesies, I obviously had to check it out. Poppy, Zach, and Alice are on the cusp of adolescence, and have spent years immersed in a deeply consuming game of make believe. But Alice is starting to be interested in things like boys and theater, and Zach’s dad is hassling him for playing little kid games with girls instead of doing normal almost teenage dude stuff. When events force Zach to announce that he won’t be playing anymore, Poppy announces that The Queen, a creep-out bone china doll kept locked in her mother’s curio cabinet, is made of the bones of a little girl named Eleanor who is now haunting Poppy in her sleep, the three friends set out on one last quest to bury the doll in her empty grave.
Before I read this book, one of my coworkers said that a lot of his students just couldn’t get into it, which kind of baffled me because the story sounded so very much like what I would have wanted to read at the age of twelve. Now that I’ve read it, though, I think I get it. It’s a really good book, but it’s a good book that has a lot of appeal to adults who are looking back on that often bittersweet age, when you’re moving into the tumultuous world of teen melodrama with one foot still lightly planted in the childhood world of make believe, imagination, and oooollllddddd friendships. I’m honestly not sure if the focus on that crucial shift from a slightly adult vantage point has as much kid appeal as it does adult appeal. The adventure felt really secondary to the relational dynamics between the three friends, which is fine for me, but maybe not for most kid readers.
The adventure story itself, while fun, wasn’t anywhere near as creepy as I was hoping it would be, especially coming from Holly Black. I know I know this is a book for kids, but this overgrown kid wanted it to be scarier, god dammit! I wanted to poop my pants! Maybe I should look elsewhere for that, but I’m sick and grumpy and I WANT TO POOP MY PANTS!!!!!!!!! GOD DAMMIT. Before any of y’all crucify me in your brains, I am going to throw in there that Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline is written for roughly the same age group and it scared the fucking snot out of me. SO THERE. I also couldn’t help but, as an adult, ask questions like “are those kids going to end up going to juvie for stealing someone’s sail boat?” And, “That poor, pink-haired librarian, and she was doing such a good job being an ally while also responsibly trying to help! What a shitty day at work for her.”
I think, at the end of the day, my experience reading this book was very much influenced by the fact that I am, much as I would like to deny it, an adult. I liked it a lot because I’m an adult, and I remember how hard that time was for me. I cried because I’m an adult, and there was a conversation between Zach and his dad that could have been a conversation between me and my step-mom. I’m an adult, and I really wanted to be scared but this just didn’t deliver adult-sized scares.
For music, let’s be totally obvious and go with, alas, one of my least favorite songs by Hole, “Doll Parts.”
Where I got it: the library