7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll BonesTitle: Doll Bones

Written by Holly Black

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books / Doubleday Childrens
Publication Date: May 2013
Hardcover: 256 Pages

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . .

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): eBook (Kindle)

Why did I read this book: I like Holly Black’s books (although I still need to catch up) but it was the creepy cover and the fact that this was middle grade that made me want to read it.


Zach, Poppy and Alice are friends who have known each other for ever. The three love coming up with awesome stories and to play them out with their action figure toys. Their current story follows pirate William the Blade and his ally the thief Lady Jaye on a quest for The Queen, “played” by an ancient china doll. When they reach a point when William the Blade is about to find out the truth about his past, the unthinkable happens: Zach’s father throws away all of his action figures because according to him, at 12, Zach should no longer be playing make-believe.

Zach is furious but also ashamed and confused and instead of talking to his friends, he closes himself off and stops playing with them altogether. But then one night the girls show up at his house saying Poppy has been contacted by the ghost of The Queen – who claims that her soul is trapped in the china doll which has been made from the bones of her murdered body. The only way to free her (as well as the kids from its haunting) is to find where the girl used to live and bury the doll.

Adventure ensues as Zach, Poppy and Alice run away from home and go on their – this time, real – Quest.

Doll Bones was not quite what I was expecting. I thought this was going to be a good old romp with a strong horror bend. And in a way it was: there is a lot of fun adventure to be had and the doll is genuinely creepy especially since, for most of the book, we (and the characters) are not really sure if this is all happening in reality or only in their imagination.

But those aspects are almost bare foundation from which the author builds a story with a stronger focus on the relationship between the three kids and the importance of storytelling and creativity. Above all, I feel this is a tale about three kids on that threshold between childhood and adolescence and one that is deftly, thoughtfully handled by Holly Black here.

Zach’s father’s thoughtless action of throwing away his toys propels the story in a very interesting way. It is an outside force that informs internal conflict: adults telling kids they can be no longer kids and that their hobby of choice is childish and undesirable. The kids have to grasp this idea, and choose whether they internalise it or question it. There is a very interesting conflation here between the toys and their ability to continue with their game. Zach for example, believes he can’t play without them. But are the toys an essential part of their game or just tools? Similarly, Poppy, Zach and Alice are in that moment that growing up is just around the corner but not for all them at the same time or in the exact same way – Poppy for example is still desperately trying to hold on to what they have now, whereas Alice and Zach are almost eager to embrace change. Do finding new ways of interacting with the world, becoming interested in different pursuits as well as forming friendships with other people mean that their interaction need to change or that their friendship is no longer meaningful?

The answers to those questions are not clear-cut and in the end there is a feeling that things will have to inevitably change but not necessarily in a fundamental way. Storytelling, creativity, role-playing is something that can be equally important to adults and teens as it is to children. In addition to all of this, each kid’s family is also extremely important in how they interact with the world and I thought really interesting how each kid had a different background which created a more dynamic and diverse story. I really appreciated that Zach’s father’s action is addressed in the story very nicely and with unexpected poignancy.

In the end, Doll Bones turned out to be not as creepy as expected but more thoughtful than I was hoping. All in all, a very good read.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

“No, you’re right,” Poppy said, her voice speeding up and getting louder, like she was afraid she was going to be cut off before she got it all out. “It’s not fair. We had a story, and our story was important. And I hate that both of you can just walk away and take part of my story with you and not even care. I hate that you can do what you’re supposed to do and I can’t. I hate that you’re going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I’m next.”

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

Ebook available for kindle UK, nook, kobo & iBookstore

You Might Also Like


  • Bonnie
    May 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I just picked this one up from the library… very excited to read it. Good to know that it’s not as creepy (I was anticipating all the creepy) but I guess that makes sense since it is a Middle Grade book. Great review!
    Bonnie @ Sweet Tidbits

  • hapax
    May 16, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I loved this book, partly because it was so poignant and nuanced an examination of what it means to “grow up” — sort of a more ambiguous PETER PAN(the book, not the movie) — and partly *because* it was more creepy than scary; I have a low threshold for horror.

    And (to be honest) I also loved the minor (but crucial) character of the librarian, who is full of Awesome.

  • Stephanie
    May 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Oh… my…. goodness…. I just finished this book this morning and it was WONDERFUL! I really liked the ideas about growing up and growing out of games and dealing with all of that. Plus, creepy ghost story — bonus. Loved this book!

  • Linda W
    May 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    I bought this one when Holly Black came to sign books at the independent bookstore near me. So glad to see her return to middle grade!

  • Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books
    May 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I, too, intend on reading more of Black’s works. The little I’ve read so far has surprised me with the amount of depth and just level of intelligence present. I’m kind of relieved to learn that the focus of this book isn’t really on horror or murder (though I suppose even if it was it couldn’t be that intense, given its audience level), but rather on friendship and the idea of growing up and the inevitable changes in life. I really do need to read this at some point. Wonderful review!

  • The Hipster Owl's Bookshelf
    May 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Aw. That quote just about made me cry.

    This sounds like a great read! I love reading about that moment when we realize we have to grow up. It’s so hard. It does feel like we are being rejected from our “old group” and being shoved to accept a new reality.

  • Regina
    August 2, 2013 at 11:44 am

    The cover is so intriguing. Your review makes it seem like it is a good read for pre-teens and young teens?

  • montana
    September 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    the first time i seen the book and the cover just pulled me to it thats when i new i had to read it hi im readding the book doll bones so far im on chapter ten i thinks its the best book i have read for awhile.i love the book so much i dont wont to put it down i wish i could by it.so do you if alice and poppy are make it up about the doll and just trying to full with zach or is it tue.still one of the best books i have ever read #1 book 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Anonymous
    January 6, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Love this book!!!

  • Eric
    February 1, 2015 at 5:10 pm

    I love these book so great.

  • Madison
    May 26, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Such a good book!! I loved it! I would rate this book a 8. ????

  • Austin123
    August 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Great book!!!!

Leave a Reply