Doll Bones

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by Holly Black. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Novel. 256 pages. Grades 4-8.
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Review

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This Newbery Honor winning ghost story is great for reluctant readers as well as more enthusiastic readers.

Three early adolescents, Zach, Alice, and Poppy, have been playing an elaborate game for years using action figures and dolls. Their fantasy world includes pirates and mermaids and The Queen, played by an antique and particularly creepy-looking doll. Zach is getting harassed for still playing with girls.

When Poppy says that the ghost of a young girl told her that the bone china doll is made from her bones and contains her ashes, the three friends embark on a journey from Pennsylvania to Ohio to bury the remains at the girl's grave. If they don't, the ghost will curse them.

The book is a little scary and filled with adolescent angst. The line-drawings scattered throughout the book take the edge off the frightening episodes and lighten the general anxiety. Most kids in fourth grade and up are old enough to handle it.

The excellent writing takes what could have been an all-too-familiar premise and turns it into something extraordinary. Themes about the power of story and the conflicting pulls of growing up enrich this contemporary quest. The teetering anxiety that comes with being at the leading edge of adulthood is palpable as these three navigate the tricky changes around play and relationships.

The characters are drawn with disarming honesty, especially Zach. Preteens and young teens will recognize themselves and their classmates in the emotions and intermittent awkwardness.

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