A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{May 28, 2013}   Doll Bones by Holly Black

DollBonesPlot: Poppy, Alica and Zack have been friends forever and they have been playing their game for almost as long. In it pirates, thieves and mermaids go on adventures under the malevolent eye of the Great Queen, an old china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s cabinet. But they are growing up and Zack’s father is pressuring him to give up the game. When all of Zach’s action figures, including William the Blade, are lost, he cannot bring himself to tell the girls why he can’t play anymore. But the Queen has one last quest for the trio: she is possessed by the ghost of a dead girl and the friends must travel to her grave to put her to rest.

I know that a story about an evil doll made out of little girl bones is going to give me nightmares, but what can I say? I can’t resist a Holly Black novel. I always find myself caught up in the narrative and falling in love with her characters.

Though it has a heroic fantasy plot – with arduous travel, pirated ships and haunted artifacts – ancient curses – this is really a novel about growing up and about stories. Poppy, Alice and Zach are on the cusp of adolescence, still friends and still enthralled by their game but beginning to discover other things. Poppy is terrified of this change, of losing her friends, of being left behind. I have to quote Black here because she says it so well: “I hate that everyone calls it growing up but it feels like dying.” (p. 200) She reacts with anger and with a story more complex and magical than ever.

And that’s the other thing: the story. Is the Queen really the ghost of Eleanore? Is she really talking to Poppy in her dreams and manifesting at inconvenient times? Or is she just an expression of their fear of growing up and their issues with their parents? Maybe both. There is no real answer (though there are several eerie hints to Eleanor’s ghostly presence). “Maybe all stories are true ones.” (p. 240) But either way the adventure the kids go on is real enough, and quite exciting… though not, as Zack quickly comes to realize, as glamorous as novels sometimes make them out to be.

And finally, as a librarian, I feel that the pink hair, yellow shoed librarian in this book needs a little shout out. She was great. 🙂

I”m hoping to meet Holly Black at BEA this week where they’ll be handing out copies of her next book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

2013 (#30)


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