New Fiction Review: ‘Doll Bones’ by Holly Black

1 Jun

dollbones

I won my copy of ‘Doll Bones’ through one of Goodread‘s First Reads competition and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was in the stages of recovering from a particularly bad ‘The Graveyard Book‘-induced book hangover. I hadn’t read any of Holly Black’s previous works (no, not even the Spiderwick Chronicles) so I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought this book might make an appropriate supplement to Neil Gaiman’s novel. I was not disappointed.

‘Doll Bones’ is an unexpected coming of age story which follows three preteen BFFs who are on a quest to placate a ghost who may, or may not, be haunting them in the guise of a bone china doll. With a father like the one in ‘The Neverending Story‘ and a naïvety concerning his affect on girls his age, Zach is a cute choice for protagonist. I love that he wasn’t a bit ashamed to be carrying around this doll, and his concern about growing up and having to stop playing with the girls was touching and poignant. One particular passage near the beginning reminded me of the first half of the latest Hyperbole and a Half blog post:

That was why Zach loved playing: those moments where it seemed like he was accessing some other world, one that felt real as anything. It was something he never wanted to give up. He’d rather go on playing like this forever, no matter how old they got, although he didn’t see how that was possible. It was already hard sometimes.

Growing up is inevitable and sad. Something gets lost but it doesn’t have to be lost forever… not if you don’t want it to be. I find myself wanting to write this C.S. Lewis quote down and slip it between the pages of one of Zach’s books (like he was doing in one of the library scenes): “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

‘Doll Bones’ is different to other quest plots in that the characters actually know they are ‘questing’. The children are fans of J.R.R. Tolkein, Doctor Who and other fantasy worlds; they relish the idea of their adventure, and some of the themes about growing up and putting toys away etc. play into this hope against all odds that magic can be real. This can be a little postmodern at times, for example when Zach is wondering about all the questers who must have failed before the heroes finally prevailed in the stories he loves, but it’s a nice touch and very fun to pick up on while reading.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book for children under the recommended reading age as it’s quite creepy – unless they’re connoisseurs of Goosebumps or whatever the contemporary equivalent is. I think a child revisiting this book when they’re fully grown will find it even more precious, after they’ve lived their own bildungsroman. Older readers should be able to get through this book in a couple of days. It’s really that absorbing. When you’re not reading it you’re wondering about the characters and their plight, and I think that’s the mark of a good novel. Black is clearly brilliant at creating story worlds, and despite the fantasy element of this one it was still totally believable. I’ll certainly be checking out her other writings – especially now as I have another book hangover to deal with!

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One Response to “New Fiction Review: ‘Doll Bones’ by Holly Black”

  1. Tracey (@qweirdo) June 1, 2013 at 10:14 PM #

    I love that C.S. Lewis quote!

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