Study Guide

Zachary Barlow in Doll Bones

By Holly Black

Zachary Barlow

Doll Bones might be dark, but there's still a kid standing in the spotlight of this story. While Zach doesn't narrate the tale himself, he's the central character, and we have access to all his thoughts and feelings; we understand what makes him tick. Since we don't have the same access to the heads and hearts of his best friends, Alice and Poppy, we have to depend on their actions and Zach's observations for info on these ladies.

So who is this kid? Zach is a twelve-year-old who loves basketball, though he's torn between his friends on the team and his best friends, Alice and Poppy. See, Alice and Poppy have long been his neighbors and playmates—but he's getting to an age where playing with girls is sort of uncool. So while he still enjoys playing with Alice and Poppy after school, he worries that other people might think it's lame:

If his teammates found out that, at twelve, he was still playing with action figures, basketball would become a lot less fun. School could get bad too. (1.20)

In other words, much as Zach loves Alice and Poppy and their time together, he's nervous about fitting in at school, and worried that his games with Alice and Poppy might ruin his social standing. It's pretty classic growing-up stuff.

Daddy Issues

As it stands, no one at school knows Zach's secret hobby of playing with toys with Alice and Poppy. But Zach's father knows, and he's always giving him a hard time about it. Zach and his dad don't exactly get along—their relationship is best described as strained—and Zach's dad abandoned Zach and his mom for three years and only recently returned. Unsurprisingly, his reentry isn't going terribly well. Zach still has a lot of anger about that whole abandonment thing.

Making things even trickier is the fact that Zach's dad is sort of a jerk. Hoping to encourage his son to play basketball more, he throws away Zach's toy figurines (including his favorite character, William the Blade), which were essential to his play dates with Alice and Poppy. Zach is totally devastated, but he can't bring himself to tell his friends what's happened. He the kind of guy who keeps a lot of things bottled up. Maybe like his dad? After all, dude chucked his son's toys instead of talking to him about his concerns.

Mr. Tough Guy

Though mum's the word with Alice and Poppy about his dad's decision to ditch his toys, Zach isn't completely out of touch with his emotions. Deep down he's really sensitive. Consider this: The same rich imagination that makes Zach so good at playing games also makes him sort of gullible. Of his three friends, he's always the one who's getting the creeps or the shivers, and unlike Alice, who seems a little more skeptical, Zach almost always buys into Poppy's ghost stories. And it's in these stories that we glimpse Zach's complicated inner emotional world.

With Alice and Poppy, Zach sometimes voices fears. Other times, he feels forced into acting like their protector, a role he hasn't quite grown into yet. When Poppy's brothers tease Alice, he tries (and fails) to make them back off:

"Leave off," Zach told them.

The Bell Boys laughed. Tom mimicked Zach, making his voice high-pitched. "Leave off. Don't talk to my girlfriend." (1.24-1.25)

Zach doesn't like that Poppy's brothers are making Alice uncomfortable, so he tries to defend her, though he doesn't exactly nail it. This unease is echoed later on when Tinshoe Jones accosts the kids on the bus:

His father would say that as the boy, it was his responsibility to protect the girls, Zach thought. That made him even more scared, because he was afraid he'd let them down. (6.47)

Poor Zach, right? He feels so much pressure and so much fear at once. He might be riddled with uncertainty, but one thing is certain: He's a softie deep down.

By the end of the book, Zach hasn't quite grown into the man his father has been pressuring him to become. Instead something better happens: His father (a.k.a. the adult in the situation) adjusts his own attitude, telling him:

"I thought you needed to be tougher […] But I've been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn't the kind of protecting that anybody wants." (14.104)

Yay, right? Having reached this understanding with his father, Zach finally admits to Alice and Poppy what happened with his toys. It's a freeing moment, and when Zach delivers the Queen's eulogy, "the words came easily, the way they did when he was playing, but he felt entirely like himself" (16.103). Released from his father's expectations, Zach is his own person.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...