'Doll Bones' by Holly Black is an MG adventure tale with a healthy dash of horror.
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends since forever. They always play "the game," where they write and act out stories about their action figures. The game is ruled by the Queen, a porcelain doll belonging to Poppy's mother. The Queen can never leave her glass case...unless someone takes her out. When Zach quits the game, Poppy and Alice take out the Queen.
What they don't realize is that they've just added a new "friend" to their group.
Poppy claims that the Queen is haunting her. Is the porcelain doll really haunted by a murdered girl? Or does Poppy just want something to keep the three friends together as they grow up and grow apart? Zach, Alice and Poppy take off to find the Queen's grave and avoid her curse -- and wind up in even worse trouble than a ghost could bring.
'Doll Bones' is a smart book in many ways. Holly Black expertly weaves together the elements of friendship, growing up, a ghost story and a modern "quest" into a book you won't want to put down. 'Doll Bones' is fast-paced and funny as well as creepy.
Black's treatment of issues at this particularly sticky stage of life is honest, humorous and sometimes profound. Zach, Alice and Poppy all come from different, certainly not perfect families, and they each have their own problems. Alice's grandmother is strict, Poppy's parents are overworked and neglectful and Zach's father has recently made an unwelcome reentry into his life. Zach in particular struggles with staying loyal to his childhood, female friends while being pressured to "grow up," "be a man," and impress his father and the members of his basketball team.
With all of this, it's not surprising that the kids use the game to escape from reality. It's against this backdrop that the three begin their "epic" quest. With cheeky references to 'Lord of the Rings' and other fantasy epics, the three friends set off with high expectations. For them, it's not just about returning the doll to her grave; it's about chasing a dream.
Some of the dangers they face are eerie and supernatural -- the doll is not always happy with their decisions, and she haunts them the whole way. Others are more mundane: where do they get food? Where do they sleep? What happens to three kids who try to ride a bus at night? Most importantly, what happens when you're not an orphan, and you can't get rid of your parents to go gallivanting off to Narnia?
Unlike other MG adventure stories, there are no alternate dimensions or fantasy worlds. The world of Zach, Poppy and Alice is one that they create themselves, and one that they struggle to hold on to in the face of reality. Of course, when you're being haunted by a porcelain doll made out of human bones, reality starts to look a lot better than you thought.
'Doll Bones' is the perfect blend of supernatural and ordinary. For kids or adults, it will creep you out, entertain you and maybe make you sleep with the lights on.