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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: Doll Bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black. McElderry Books. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Zach, Poppy, and Alice  get together nearly everyday to play an elaborate game with dolls, action figures, and stories that grow and twist and turn, all related to the “Great Queen” doll that Poppy’s mother keeps locked in a cabinet.

They’re twelve now and things are beginning to change. Zach is playing basketball and his father is telling him he’s too old to play pretend games. Alice is acting different at school.

The game seems over, as does their friendship, when Poppy shares that she’s been dreaming about the “Great Queen” doll and a little girl who died years ago. The ghost of the girl is demanding that her doll be buried with her.

Zach, Poppy, and Alice are about to go on a real adventure.

The Good: A ghost story — is the Great Queen doll haunted?

An adventure, as Zach, Poppy, and Alice find out the background of the “Great Queen” doll, where she was made, and try to figure out who the dead girl is.

And, a story about growing up and, maybe, growing apart, and the intense, physical sense of loss that brings.

Doll Bones is a great book for those in middle school, or about to go in. There is the haunting (though some may argue that it’s all just a story that Poppy has made up, like the stories she makes up for the games she, Zach and Alice play). There is also a terrific adventure, and I liked how the three figured out bus schedules and how much money they had for food and all those sort of details. These three had to investigate and research and do — all great; plus, since this is about growing up, all those things are showing how, yes, these three are getting older and more responsible. Well, more responsible if you ignore the running away (technically) to do so.

Growing up —  what Doll Bones is really about is growing up and growing apart. I adored the game the three played, and I got so mad at Zach’s father for trying to stop his son from playing, and at the same time, I read about the game and the play-acting and knew that what Poppy is fighting is true, no matter what: that they are outgrowing the game. That some of them may be outgrowing it faster than others. That children grow and change and it happens. The ghost that will haunt Zach and Poppy and Alice will not be the ghost of a long dead child, but rather the ghost of their childhood and their games, even if some things (friendships, creativity) will survive. It is also the games, and all they learned pretending, that makes them able to go on a real adventure, and that, also, is growing up, taking the skills practiced in games and doing it for real.

Because there is so much in Doll Bones — on one level, a ghost story and an adventure, on another, about the loss of childhood — this is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews: A Fuse #8 Production.




About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. Seems to be a wonderful book, I loved the cover and the plot and of course I love Holy Black. Nice to know that you liked the book too. 🙂 nice review.

  2. My daughter, Hannah read a preview copy of this and gave her review here. (

  3. I read this at lunch before I went to get ready for Holly Black’s presentation at my school today! (I printed a copy for her.) The presentation was great: creepy and funny. She earned some new fans.

  4. Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this book since I found out about it in January. I’m so glad to read great things about it.

  5. Elizabeth Burns says

    Samantha, it’s such a great book! Thanks!

    Ilene, thanks for the link. “I could tell you what happened next, but I got too creeped out.” That happened to me with a book at about her age, and I ended up throwing the book out, burying it in the garbage, because the book was so creepy!

    Jean, I’m so jealous!

    Eliza, it’s terrific!


  1. […] Newbery Honor Books also were named: Doll Bones written by Holly Black and published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & […]