Some kids have tea parties with their dolls, some push them around the neighborhood in strollers, and others believe they have a doll that's possessed by the spirit of a dead human child—or at least the kids in Doll Bones do, anyway.
The doll in Doll Bones is known as the Queen, and she's an old porcelain toy that may or may not be possessed by the irritable spirit of one Eleanor Kerchner, a girl who died in the distant past. Old Eleanor wants Zach, Alice, and Poppy to return her remains to her grave, which is located in Ohio, an inconvenient three-hour bus ride away.
Did we mention the Queen's hollow body contains a burlap sack stuffed with ashes and bones? Because it does. And while the whole possession story—told by Poppy, a twelve-year-old girl who's been dreaming about Eleanor—sounds a little shaky, that creepy ash bag is pretty convincing. Convincing enough, anyway, that Zach and Alice agree to go along with Poppy's cockamamie plan, which is to hop on a bus headed to Ohio at 2:15 in the morning. Their quest ends two days later, when they bury the doll in a graveyard. You know, just regular kid stuff.
Doll Bones was published in 2013 by Holly Black, a horror and fantasy writer best known for The Spiderwick Chronicles, a series about fairies (or "faeries," if you want to sound more authentic). Just because everyone knows Black because of Spiderwick doesn't mean Doll Bones doesn't stand on its own, though—in fact, it was named a Newbery Honor Book in 2014. And that means that it's just as awesome as it is creepy.
There are few things more horrifying than puberty. Hair sprouts, acne explodes, hormones rage—no matter where you fall on the social ladder, no one escapes the terrors of a changing body and quickly beating heart. Because of this, a lot of young adult novels focus on that special time in a teenager's life when he or she falls in L-U-V. Not so with Doll Bones, though, which instead covers the stage when you have to find a graveyard in which to bury your possessed scary nightmare doll.
What's that? You've never heard of this stage? Oh yes you have—we just have to treat the whole doll-burial bit as a metaphor (which it totally is). Think we've lost our minds? Hang with us; you'll see.
See, Doll Bones is about the frightening but necessary task of leaving the world of childhood behind. As the story opens, we see a group of children—Zach, Alice, and Poppy—playing with their toys. And as it closes, we see them bury one of these toys in an actual graveyard. They're burying this particular doll because she's possessed, yes, but it's also symbolic: After years of exploring their identities and testing their personal boundaries using toys, these characters are ready to leave the trappings of youth behind and experience their lives in the real world.
Is facing the real world scary? Abso-freaking-lutely. But you can't stay a kid forever. And hey, compared to a possessed doll, pit hair and B.O. don't seem nearly so bad.
Holly Black's Home on the Web
The author's official website and your one-stop shop for all things Holly Black.
More Pictures, Please
Don't you just love Eliza Wheeler's illustrations in Doll Bones? There's way more where that came from on her official website, so check it out.
All About Lotus Ware
The author visited this ceramics museum in East Liverpool to research bone china. You can just swing by the website for the scoop yourself, though.
Behind the Book
Holly Black describes her creepy research trip to East Liverpool, Ohio. Because you know there was some creepiness going on when she was crafting this tale.
Holly Black answers readers' questions on GoodReads. Spoiler alert: Black's a self-described "wuss" in real life.
Want to know what the New York Times thinks of Black's book? Click on through to scratch that itch.
The Washington Post ran a quick and easy review of Doll Bones—you might even say it's doll-sized itself.
Holly Black on Writing
The author talks about her research process. So if you're curious about what it takes to write a book, do a little research yourself by watching this video.
Official Book Trailer
The official Doll Bones book trailer. What do you think?
Ghost stories are best told out loud, so listen to an excerpt from the Doll Bones audiobook to up the creep factor for yourself.
Meet the Author
This is Holly Black… with black hair… and wearing all black. Go figure.
Meet the Illustrator
And this is illustrator Eliza Wheeler. She's only wearing some black.
Wondering what bone china looks like? Here's a piece of Lotus Ware, the line on which Orchid Ware was based.