I had heard good things about this book and since I had already read The Spiderwick Chronicles, which are also by Holly Black, I decided to read this as well.
The book starts out with three pre-teens who play a game with various action figures. They make up elaborate stories and details about the whole thing. They’re all really getting too old to be playing in such a manner, but they enjoy their time together and the stories they make up. Their names are Zach, Alice, and Poppy.
Things are complicated all around. One child lives with her grandmother because her parents are dead. Zach’s father has recently moved back into the house after being moved out for three years. All three children are trying to deal with growing up and the changes in their lives. Poppy has a doll, or rather Poppy’s mother has a doll, in a curio cabinet. This doll is a china doll and seems quite strange. It was always locked up in the cabinet. One day after Zach’s father throw away his action figures because he’s getting too old for them, Poppy threatens to get the doll, called The Queen, out of her case. The next day something entirely odd happens.
Poppy says she had a strange dream about the doll. The doll said her name was Eleanor and that she was made out of the bones of a real little girl. Her father had been a semi-famous china fashioner. When she died he made her bones into a doll and stuffer her ashes inside. The children look and there are indeed ashes on the inside of the doll. Eleanor wants the children to bury her bones, or else.
The children set off on a daring adventure. They must go to a city about two and a half hours away. They ride a bus, where a man says he sees a blond little girl, when there isn’t one. They have their camp torn up. They go across a river and narrowly escape drowning. They steal the boat they go across the river on in addition to everything else. They also break into a Carnegie library, where a librarian makes them call home.
Eventually, they complete their quest, because that’s what they’ve come to think of it as. It was a quest just like the quests they made up in their game. They realize that they continue their game, but in a more appropriate manner befitting their age and some romance even develops out of the whole thing.
What I liked
I’ve never been much for doll stories, but this was pretty interesting. I did used to actually own porcelain dolls when I was younger. I had a whole collection. I also had Cabbage Patch dolls, and, yes, even the notorious Barbie. Some people think porcelain dolls are creepy, but I never have thought that. They just take up a lot of space and I eventually grew out of collecting them. They’re shoved up in my mom’s attic somewhere in boxes. Who knows, maybe some of them are actually worth something now?
I think part of what makes people think china and porcelain dolls are creepy is that they more often look real unlike many other types of dolls. Most dolls you get these days don’t look like real people, barring a few baby dolls which actually look like real babies; I had a few of those growing up. I even had an anatomically correct set of baby doll twins, a boy and a girl. Porcelain dolls are often made to look like adults and that creeps some people out. Here is this little person sitting on your shelf. What are they going to do to you? They look so much like a real person that they could get up and walk away.
On top of all of that, there have been urban legends about dolls. This doll was made out of a person. This doll is haunted; it belonged to a little girl who was murdered and now her soul haunts the doll. Actually, there are quite a few haunted doll stories floating around, not including Chuckie, of course.
Holly just took this tradition and wrote an entire story about it. I think she did well. The doll was malevolent enough to be a threat, but the back story was sympathetic enough to spur action.
Holly is apparently really good at working difficult family situations into her stories. Nobody in this book has a particularly happy home life. That’s something kids can relate to. I know I didn’t have a great home life growing up and a lot of children don’t today. They need stories with characters who are in similar situations so they can feel as if they’re not alone in their suffering. We need to show kids, as authors, that there are other kids out there just like them and they turn out ok in the end.
What I didn’t like
This book is honestly a bit morbid for a child. A dad goes mad with grief and makes his daughter into a doll. That’s creepy. That’s gross. You have to wonder what’s wrong with a person in order for them to do something like that? This book introduces some darker psychiatric problems to children and that may not be something all children can handle. Children are childlike in their innocence and trust. They like to believe that a person is who they say they are, but we know, as adults, that that’s not always the case. Sometimes people hide dark secrets and strange, dangerous fascinations. This story is something that might actually creep your kid out. If your kid reads this book and suddenly takes a dislike to your porcelain doll in the curio cabinet which is a family heirloom, you’ll know why.
Holly did a great job of taking an urban legend and turning it into an apt story for pre-teens.
Do china dolls creep you out?
Have you heard of similar urban legends about dolls? If so, do they share common characteristics to this story?
alice, china doll, doll bones, Doll Bones by Holly Black, doll made out of a person, doll made out of bones, dolls are creepy, eleanor, haunted doll, holly black, poppy, porcelain doll, urban legends about dolls, zach
Black-Holly, Children’s, Coming of age, Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Romantic Fiction, Undead, Young Adult