Friday, April 24, 2015 review of _Doll Bones_ by Holly Black...

Holy moly, kids. This blog isn't supposed to be full of book reviews but I suppose it is that time of year... read that as I'm both avoiding grading all those student papers and looking forward to "fun" summer reading (as opposed to the required reading that the mean-old professor assigns... oh, wait. That's me!) 

Anyhoo, after I finished reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black last week, a librarian-friend asked if I had read Black’s Doll Bones. She followed up by saying that one of her students *started* reading it but it was so creepy that she couldn’t finish it! “Oooohhh!” I thought and added it to my Kindle for a bit of train reading. After all, some semesters I teach Adolescent Literature and I run an adolescent literature blog… so this is research (I justify :p )!  

Doll Bones by Holly Black (Author), Eliza Wheeler (Illustrator)
Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Grade Level: 5 - 9
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

I will start by saying, I am afraid of dolls… nearly terrified. It may even border on an actual phobia. In high school, my beloved English teacher had a house full of dolls… those porcelain face ones.  She was so eccentric to us (whispers—she was even a divorcee! Gasp! Okay, that was pretty scandalous back then in the rural town from where I hail).  Anyhow, I was in Oratory club and she was one of our coaches. Once she invited our team to her house which was a super exciting treat back then (maybe still today since my students are always so excited to see pictures of anything related to my personal life). As soon as I walked in, I started sweating. It felt so hot and stuffy in that house with all the dolls and their beady eyes staring at me that I had to step out and get some air. Oh yeah, it was summer in Virginia so it was probably in the 90s and I’m sure her house had air conditioning… but still, I was near faint.

And, don’t forget about the recent incident in New Orleans! I haven’t had a voice since April 5th! Sure, it could be allergies OR it could be that Professor Z was a bit too curious and actually stopped to comment about that creepy doll in the store window. Just kidding… I know this is allergies! (looks around in a paranoid way)

SO… when I read that the book was about a “midnight quest to lay to rest the soul of a murdered girl, a soul that now inhabits a bone china doll” (School Library Journal), I was like YES! This will be CREEEE-PYYYY… but it wasn’t THAT creepy. I certainly wasn’t paranoid while reading the book and it didn’t keep me up at night. I liked it, don’t get me wrong. It just was more of an adventure and slightly bildungsroman. Even more, it was a story about friendship and three best friends choosing to stay together for as long as they can while others noted that they were all growing up and possibly growing apart.

Zack, Alice, and Poppy play make-believe and incorporate an antique doll Poppy’s mother keeps inside a glass cabinet into their stories. Referred to as the “Great Queen”, readers learn that the doll is made from the bones and ashes of a girl named Eleanor Kerchner who died in 1895. Requiring a proper burial, the doll will go to any lengths to force the children to comply.

I think this would be a great creepy-level book for younger adolescents. The story includes elements of the uncanny (e.g. possible winking and moving). The children even question themselves and what is real. Poppy even explains that she thinks she told the truth and it felt like she was telling the truth but maybe she just convinced herself that it was real. That’s a really good lesson for adults too.

Doll Bones has received several rewards. It was a Newbery Medal Honor Book in 2014.


  1. I know one shouldn't judge a book by its cover... but I love the cover art for that book!! I love dolls too! The creepy element to them is just the cherry on top for me! :D

  2. I read this book a few months ago, and liked it VERY much. As you say, it's not in-your-face creepy, but the creepiness does grow a bit as the story continues. My only complaint is that there are several "holes" in the story that I wish she had filled! But overall, it IS a good story, and definitely worth reading!

  3. I loooove Holly Black and have read most of her YA books! I am also scared of dolls, but the porcelain sort mostly, the babyish ones, I am not scared of Barbies or Monster High, for isntance, assuming you aren't either? My Elissabat is waving to me as I type this lol. The first time I borrowed the book the cover creeped me out and I returned it. Second time I read it and it was so creepy and shivery but awesome!