Middle Grade Monday – Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

middle grade monday

Hey everyone!  We’ve moved Middle-Grade Monday over from our TBR and Beyond Facebook Group to the blog! Hopefully we can bring you lots of great reviews, topics and maybe even some author interviews!
I’m a massive middle-grade fan, and I’m always trying to get people to give it a shot! Hopefully these reviews will give you a better idea if you want to try out the books or not! That is the goal anyway!



My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Middle-Grade Horror
Pages: 244
Pacing: Normal
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published: May 7th 2013




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 . . . – Synopsis from Goodreads

hearts 3

Spooky middle-grade is my jam! I was so ready for this story.  I’ve had my eye on it for what feels like forever and anything to do with creepy dolls is very my brand.  Why did I end up so disappointed then?

I’ve been making my way through the Holly Black library this year and I wish I could say that I’ve been loving everything I’ve read but it’s not the case.  Doll Bones starts off on the right foot.  We follow three children – Dave, Alice and Poppy who have been friends for years.  They meet frequently to play with their action figures and dolls to play out these very elaborate stories that have been going on forever with ongoing story arcs for each of their characters.  Unfortunately, they are 12 now and they have to hide their game, so they won’t be made fun of – particularly Dave. Something happens in Dave’s homelife and he is no longer able to play anymore.  Although he is completely devastated, he doesn’t want anyone to know and he ends up not telling his friends why he won’t play anymore and just lashes out and says he is too old for the game anymore.  He completely disconnects from the girls over it.

Alice and Poppy try to convince Dave to play with them again but nothing works until Poppy brings out a china doll from her house that they’ve referred to as the queen in past games.  She tells them that the queen is real and has given Poppy a quest to put her in her rightful burial ground – which happens to be a couple hours away from where they live.  Eventually they all reluctantly agree to take this journey together and the real adventure starts.

I know this all sounds really cool and it is to some extent but the big problem here is the story is kind of disjointed.  I feel like Holly was trying to write a coming-of-age story blended with a ghost story, but it didn’t quite work.  It started to feel like two entirely different stories and it might have been better if they were.  I did really like the children as characters but once they got on their journey they fought constantly and Alice wanted to go home the entire time and just kept repeating it.  Yes, she was completely right but it didn’t make her whining at them every five seconds anymore enjoyable to read.  I also got frustrated when there would be really cool, creepy scenes and then they would just get cut short by something mundane and lose the entire atmosphere it had going.  It kept taking me out of story.  I also really didn’t like that they included a little romance between two of these characters.  It felt odd and out-of-place and wasn’t developed at all.  It was just awkward and unnecessary.  It also kind of played into that whole boys and girls can’t just be platonic friends, so I wasn’t into that at all.

I did like the little adventures when they did have them.  There is a great scene with a boat and another with a library that was really fun and had some nice moments with the characters.  I really liked the character of Poppy and found it almost odd that she wasn’t the main character since it was her quest and everything the doll was doing, she seemed to be only doing to Poppy.  It was a bit confusing. I think she would’ve made a better protagonist than Dave.

At the end of the day, the heart of this story is childhood and imagination and holding onto it at all costs.  I think the message was good and I do think it was conveyed in this story.  I loved hearing about the stories that they were creating with the dolls – it was so creative and I wanted to be a kid again.  It probably sounded like I didn’t enjoy this book at at all, but I just had high expectations, so I was probably a bit harder on it than usual.  I think it’s still worth a read if the synopsis interests you and a lot of younger kids are still going to enjoy it.  I don’t think this is going to be TOO scary for most kids under eight or nine.  Obviously, this would be a great book for the fall/Halloween season.


6 thoughts on “Middle Grade Monday – Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

  1. I read this years ago – long before I started reviewing – so I don’t remember it that clearly, but I remember being somewhat disappointed by it as well. I agree that the romance wasn’t needed at all, and that it mostly lacked atmosphere, which is one of the things I like the most in creepy books. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a frustrating read. I already dislike it when the author is just getting to the good part and decides to change POVs, nevermind if something mundane interrupted a suspenseful scene. Hope your next one is better!


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