Study Guide

Doll Bones Setting

By Holly Black


Small Town Pennsylvania

Doll Bones begins in small town Pennsylvania where Zach, Alice, and Poppy live. Zach's dad refers to it as "West of Nowhere, Pennsylvania, claiming it bordered Better off Forgotten, West Virginia, and Already Forgotten, Ohio" (6.1). While certain pop culture references mark the story as vaguely contemporary, we don't know precisely when it's taking place.

What stands out most about the setting is how economically depressed it is. Zach recalls his grandparents' stories of "how the big Victorian houses—the ones built by some famous architect, the ones that were in the center of town—used to be owned by single families and not divided into run-down apartments" (6.2). Many of the stores on Main Street have boarded up windows, too.

This economically depressed atmosphere is echoed in the town to which the trio travels to bury the Queen: "Although the main street of East Liverpool was full of big store windows and shops, many were no longer open at all" (13.1). Gloomy, right?

Adding to the gloom is the fact that, generally speaking, Zach, Alice, and Poppy live in a world of absent adults. In Doll Bones, the adults are physically and/or mentally absent. Poppy's parents are barely ever home except to sleep; Alice's parents are dead; and Zach's father has only recently returned from an extended absence. To varying degrees, the kids' homes are miniature versions of the ghost town in which they live. Which taken all together, is a pretty good start to a ghost story.

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