Study Guide

Poppy Bell in Doll Bones

By Holly Black

Poppy Bell

Every friend group has a wild child in it, and in Zach and Alice's case, this firecracker takes the form of Poppy, a fiery redheaded middle school student who's a natural storyteller with a vibrant imagination. In the game she plays with Zach and Poppy, for instance, "she liked nothing better than being in charge of the story and had a sense of how to make a moment dramatic. That was why she was the best at playing villains" (1.9). In other words, she's bossy, she has a flair for the dramatic, and her imagination knows no bounds.

When the gang plays, Poppy is always "improvising, jumping into the gaps in a story, creating something new and interesting and a little scary" (2.41)—but she's also a bit of a control freak. We're told: "she wasn't always good at accepting the stuff [Zach] and Alice made up, no matter how awesome it was" (10.15). Poppy prefers things her way, it seems.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Poppy loves ghost stories. She seems to take real pleasure in creeping out her friends—especially Zach, who's a little bit gullible. In fact, one of Poppy's ghost stories is central to the plot of the novel. The tale of the Queen, a doll who may be possessed by a dead girl, that Poppy tells Zach and Alice convinces them to accompany her on an adventure to Ohio.

But does Poppy really have a dream about Eleanor Kerchner? Or does she make up the story based on something she read somewhere? The book never says for sure, and even Poppy herself seems uncertain. She tells Zach and Alice:

"Maybe I made it all up […] All the stuff I said. I really did dream about her. But the rest… I don't know. It felt true when I said it. But I wanted it to be true so much that maybe I convinced myself it was." (16.45)

Having been hardheaded and unwilling to entertain the possibility that she's wrong up until this point, Poppy's moment of self-doubt is a sign that she's becoming more mature—even if she isn't certain whether the Queen has actually been possessed by Eleanor. Along this line, of the three friends, Poppy seems the most attached to the game. This may be in part because it provides an escape from her difficult home life:

The inside of Poppy's home was always a mess. Discarded clothes, half-empty cups, and sports equipment covered most surfaces. Her parents seemed to have given up on the house around the same time they gave up on trying to enforce any rules about dinner and bedtimes and fighting—around Poppy's eighth birthday, when one of her brothers threw her cake with its still-lit birthday candles at her older sister. (1.32)

Oh man, right? Zach and Alice definitely have familial beef, but at least they know their guardians care. Poppy's pretty much on her own.

Poppy is also attached to the game, though, because she's the least mature of the three friends. She sees signs of Zach and Alice getting older and she's not sure what worries her more—the idea that they're leaving her behind or the thought that she's next. "I hate that you're going to leave me behind," she tells her friends. "I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I'm next" (14.43). She may have a flair for the dramatic, but in comparing adolescence to being possessed, well, Poppy's pretty spot on.

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