Thursday, February 6, 2014
Doll Bones, by Holly Black
Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever, and even though they are now twelve, they continue to role-play with action figures to the point that their fantasy storyline has gotten very elaborate and absorbing. They are not just misfit kids who have no other friends, though. Zach, the POV character, is also an up-and-coming basketball player, growing up into a handsome kid (though he doesn't see this himself), and loves the sense of belonging he gets from his teammates. Zach's dad, who is suffering hurts of his own, decides that the time has come for Zach to put away childish things, and since Zach isn't inclined, he'll do it for him: He throws out all Zach's action figures. Zach, angry, embarrassed, and suspecting maybe he should be ashamed, refuses to tell the girls what happened. Instead, he turns his anger on them and tells them he can't play anymore. That's it. The end. Finis. It's when Poppy gets The Queen -- her mother's antique doll made of bone china -- out of its glass case in a dramatic attempt to get Zach to change his mind that ghostly things begin to happen. In short, the doll convinces the kids, particularly the loud and dramatic Poppy, that she is the bones and ash of a murdered girl, and unless they take her to her grave, where the rest of her remains are buried, she will make their lives miserable.
From there, they go on a road trip in an effort to accomplish the quest. I'm not going to detail the plot much more, to avoid spoilers, but this book is at heart a friendship story. Where the novel really shines is in its delineation of the relationships between all three kids and how each one is changing and fears change in the others. The adventurous plot is a wonderful vehicle for this exploration, and there are some great quotes such as the one by Zach's dad when they reconcile: "I thought you needed to be tougher. But I've been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn't the kind of protecting that anybody wants." I'm also fascinated by the history of bone china, which is touched on and may or may not have been the impetus for this story.
I had a couple of minor quibbles with the book. It absolutely turns on the fact that Zach wouldn't explain to his friends why he wouldn't play the game anymore, and I wasn't fully convinced he would keep that secret for as long as he did. And, for me, the quest portion bogged down a bit until it suddenly got irresistibly exciting. In fact, I came this close to putting the book down, but I'm really glad I didn't. A very good novel, worthy of its Newbery Honor.