Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Read Scary: Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

This is proof that you should never read other reviews before the actual book! I received this review copy back in May, stuck it on the shelf, and promptly was absorbed into summer. When I started getting to my reviewing backlog, I had read a lot of reviews that all pretty much summed up the book as "amazing and scary" so I scheduled a spot for it in my Read Scary meme and then read the book.

Well, amazing perhaps, but I wouldn't really say it's scary. At this point, you've probably seen quite a few reviews, but the basic plot is that Zach, Poppy, and Alice have a complex imaginary game with action figures, dolls, and a constantly changing series of plots. When Zach's dad, back in his life after several years of being gone, decides 12-year-old Zach needs to grow up and throws out all his action figures, props, and the questions they trade back and forth in school, Zach is devastated. He doesn't know how to tell Poppy and Alice, so he says he's too grown-up to play the game anymore. Poppy, desperate to get her friends back, comes up with a new game based on the dreams she's been having about The Queen, the antique china doll she's sneaked out of her mom's display case. Together, the three set out on their first real quest, one final adventure, each searching for something different.

This is a beautifully crafted story. There are so many wonderful parts, all smoothly woven together. Holly Black really gets that feeling of in-between for middle school kids where they're not adults, but not kids and kind of scared of what happens next. Not every kid is going to think this deeply about it, but for those introspective, dreamy kids this book will hit all the right notes. It's a magical story of imaginative play with the stories they tell taking on a life of their own. I'd also add how much I love that the librarian is a sympathetic, but wholly adult figure. I've gotten a bit annoyed by the portrayal of librarians as sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girls for kids. Yeah, we like kids, yeah we want them to love books, but we are still ADULTS. I also noted with approval that the crazy old guy they meet is just that - a crazy, weird, frightening guy. Having interacted with many people who are have mental and addiction issues, I can safely say that while I feel sorry for them, I don't think they have any secret mystical knowledge to impart. This is now turning into a diatribe on what I don't like about other books...anyways. I also loved Eliza Wheeler's evocative illustrations. It reminded me of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Egypt Game.

Verdict: Will this book be for every kid? No. Kids expecting a seriously spooky story or a classic adventure will be disappointed, but kids who want to think a little more about growing up and who like a mysterious story with riffles of fear will treasure this book. I'd put this one in the order list for the couple books you buy for the kids who want something a little different and I wouldn't be surprised if it won some awards. I also wouldn't be surprised if it got challenged at some point, since it deals very realistically with kids' fears and feelings, although there's nothing overtly "inappropriate" in it.

ISBN: 9781416963981; Published May 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated copy to the library

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