Doll Bones

Doll Bones


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416963998
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date: 04/14/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 39,845
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), the Modern Faerie Tales series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, The Darkest Part of the Forest, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), and the Folk of the Air series. She has been a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of both an Andre Norton Award and a Newbery Honor. She lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door. Visit her at

Read an Excerpt

Doll Bones


    POPPY SET DOWN ONE OF THE MERMAID DOLLS CLOSE to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea. They were old—bought from Goodwill—with big shiny heads, different-colored tails, and frizzy hair.

    Zachary Barlow could almost imagine their fins lashing back and forth as they waited for the boat to get closer, their silly plastic smiles hiding their lethal intentions. They’d crash the ship against the shallows if they could, lure the crew into the sea, and eat the pirates with their jagged teeth.

    Zachary rummaged through his bag of action figures. He pulled out the pirate with the two cutlasses and placed him gently at the center of the boat-shaped paper they’d weighed down with driveway gravel. Without gravel, the Neptune’s Pearl was likely to blow away in the early autumn wind. He could almost believe he wasn’t on the scrubby lawn in front of Poppy’s ramshackle house with the sagging siding, but aboard a real ship, with salt spray stinging his face, on his way to adventure.

    “We’re going to have to lash ourselves to the mast,” Zach said, as William the Blade, captain of the Neptune’s Pearl. Zach had a different way of speaking for each of his figures. He wasn’t sure that anyone but him could tell his voices apart, but he felt different when he talked in them.

    Alice’s braids spilled in front of her amber eyes as she moved a G.I. Joe Lady Jaye figure closer to the center of the boat. Lady Jaye was a thief who’d begun traveling with William the Blade after she’d been unsuccessful in picking his pocket. She was loud and wild, almost nothing like Alice, who chafed under the thumb of her overprotective grandmother, but did it quietly.

    “You think the Duke’s guards will be waiting for us in Silverfall?” Alice made Lady Jaye ask.

    “He might catch us,” said Zach, grinning at her. “But he’ll never hold us. Nothing will. We’re on a mission for the Great Queen and we won’t be stopped.” He hadn’t expected to say those words until they came out of his mouth, but they felt right. They felt like William’s true thoughts.

    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.

    Poppy tucked windblown strands of red hair behind her ears and regarded Zach and Alice very seriously. She was tiny and fierce, with freckles thick enough to remind Zach of the stars at night. 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.

    “You can knot ropes to keep you safe, but no boat can pass through these waters unless a sacrifice is given to the deep,” Poppy made one of the mermaids say. “Willingly or unwillingly. If one of your crew doesn’t leap into the sea, the sea will choose her own sacrifice. That’s the mermaid’s curse.”

    Alice and Zach exchanged a look. Were the mermaids telling the truth? Really, Poppy wasn’t supposed to make up rules like that—ones that no one else had agreed to—but Zach objected only when he didn’t like them. A curse seemed like it could be fun.

    “We’ll all go down together before we lose a single member of this crew,” he fake-shouted in William’s voice. “We’re on a mission for the Great Queen, and we fear her curse more than yours.”

    “But just then,” said Poppy ominously, moving one of the mermaids to the edge of the ship, “webbed fingers grab Lady Jaye’s ankle, and the mermaid pulls her over the side of the boat. She’s gone.”

    “You can’t do that!” Alice said. “I was lashed to the mast.”

    “You didn’t specify that you were,” Poppy told her. “William suggested it, but you didn’t say whether or not you did it.”

    Alice groaned, as though Poppy was being especially annoying. Which she kind of was. “Well, Lady Jaye was in the middle of the boat. Even if she wasn’t lashed, a mermaid couldn’t get to her without crawling on board.”

    “If Lady Jaye gets pulled over the side, I’m going after her,” Zach said, plunging William into the gravel water. “I meant it when I said no one gets left behind.”

    “I didn’t get pulled over the side,” Alice insisted.

    As they continued arguing two of Poppy’s brothers walked out of the house, letting the screen door slam behind them. They looked over and started to snicker. The older of the two, Tom, pointed directly at Zach and said something under his breath. His younger brother laughed.

    Zach felt his face heat. He didn’t think they knew anyone at his middle school, but still. If any of 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.

    “Ignore them,” Poppy declared loudly. “They’re jerks.”

    “All we were going to say is that Alice’s grandma called,” Tom said, his face a parody of hangdog innocence. He and Nate had the same tomato-red hair as their sister, but they weren’t much like her in any other way that Zach could see. They, along with their eldest sister, were always in trouble—fighting, cutting school, smoking, and other stuff. The Bell kids were considered hoodlums in town and, Poppy aside, they seemed intent on doing what they could to uphold that reputation. “Old lady Magnaye says that you need to be home before dark and for us to be sure to tell you not to forget or make excuses. She seems rough, Alice.” The words were supposed to be nice, but you could tell from the sickly sweet way Tom talked that he wasn’t being nice at all.

    Alice stood up and brushed off her skirt. The orange glow of the setting sun bronzed her skin and turned her glossy box braids metallic. Her eyes narrowed. Her expression wavered between flustered and angry. Boys had been hassling her ever since she’d hit ten, gotten curves, and started looking a lot older than she was. Zach hated the way Tom talked to her, like he was making fun of her without really saying anything bad, but he never knew what to say to stop it either.

    “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.”

    “Yeah, leave off,” Nate squeaked. “Or I’ll beat you up with my doll.”

    Alice started toward the Bell house, head down.

    Great, Zach thought. As usual, he’d made it worse.

    “Don’t go yet,” Poppy called to Alice, ignoring her brothers. “Call home and just see if you can spend the night.”

    “I better not,” Alice said. “I’ve just got to get my backpack from inside.”

    “Wait up,” Zach said, grabbing Lady Jaye. He headed for the screen door and got there just as it shut in his face. “You forgot—”

    The inside of Poppy’s house 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 dinners 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. Now there were no more birthday parties. There weren’t even family meals, just boxes of macaroni and cheese, cans of ravioli, and tins of sardines in the pantry so that the kids could feed themselves long before their parents came home from work and fell, exhausted, into their bed.

    Zach felt envious every time he thought of that kind of freedom, and Alice loved it even more than he did. She spent as many nights there as her grandmother allowed. Poppy’s parents didn’t seem to notice, which worked out pretty perfectly.

    He opened the screen door and went inside.

    Alice was standing in front of the dusty, old, locked display cabinet in the corner of the Bell living room, peering in at all the things Poppy’s mother had forbidden Poppy, on pain of death and possible dismemberment, from touching. That was where the doll they called the Great Queen of all their kingdoms was trapped, next to a blown-glass vase from Savers that had turned out to be vintage something-or-other. The Queen had been picked up by Poppy’s mother at a tag sale, and she insisted that one day she was going to go on Antiques Roadshow, sell it, and move them all to Tahiti.

    The Queen was a bone china doll of a child with straw-gold curls and paper-white skin. Her eyes were closed, lashes a flaxen fringe against her cheek. She wore a long gown, the thin fabric dotted with something black that might be mold. Zach couldn’t remember when exactly they’d decided that she was the Great Queen, only that they’d all felt like she was watching them, even though her eyes were closed, and that Poppy’s sister had been terrified of her.


    Apparently, one time, Poppy had woken in the middle of the night and found her sister—with whom she shared a room—sitting upright in bed. “If she gets out of the case, she’ll come for us,” her sister had said, blank-faced, before slumping back down on her pillow. No amount of calling to the other side of the room had seemed to stir her. Poppy had tossed and turned, unable to sleep for the rest of the night. But in the morning, her sister had told her that she didn’t remember saying anything, that it must have been a nightmare, and that their mother really needed to get rid of that doll.

    After that, to avoid being totally terrified, Zach, Poppy, and Alice had added the doll to their game.

    According to the legend they’d created, the Queen ruled over everything from her beautiful glass tower. She had the power to put her mark on anyone who disobeyed her commands. When that happened, nothing would go right for them until they regained her favor. They’d be convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Their friends and family would sicken and die. Ships would sink, and storms would strike. The one thing the Queen couldn’t do, though, was escape.

    “You okay?” Zach asked Alice. She seemed transfixed by the case, staring into it as though she could see something Zach couldn’t.

    Finally Alice turned around, her eyes shining. “My grandmother wants to know where I am every second. She wants to pick out my clothes for me and complains about my braids all the time. I just am so over it. And I don’t know if she’s going to let me be in the play this year, even though I got a good part. She can’t see so well after dark, and she doesn’t want to drive me home. I’m just so tired of all her rules, and it’s like the older I get, the worse she gets.”

    Zach had heard most of that before, but usually Alice just sounded resigned to it. “What about your aunt? Could you ask her to pick you up after rehearsals?”

    Alice snorted. “She’s never forgiven Aunt Linda for trying to get custody of me way back when. Brings it up at every holiday. It’s made her superparanoid.”

    Mrs. Magnaye grew up in the Philippines and was fond of telling anyone who would listen how different things were over there. According to her, Filipino teen­agers worked hard, never talked back, and didn’t draw on their hands with ink pens or want to be actresses, like Alice did. They didn’t get as tall as Alice was getting either.

    “Made her superparanoid?” Zach asked.

    Alice laughed. “Yeah, okay. Made her extra-­superparanoid.”

    “Hey.” Poppy came into the living room from outside, holding the rest of their figures. “Are you sure you can’t stay over, Alice?”

    Alice shook her head, plucked Lady Jaye out of Zach’s hand, and went down the hallway to Poppy’s room. “I was just getting my stuff.”

    Poppy turned impatiently to Zach for an explanation. She never liked it when she wasn’t part of a conversation and hated the idea that her friends had kept any secrets from her, even stupid ones.

    “Her grandmother,” he said, with a shrug. “You know.”

    Poppy sighed and looked at the cabinet. After a moment, she spoke. “If you finish this quest, the Queen will probably lift the curse on William. He could go home and finally solve the mystery of where he came from.”

    “Or maybe she’ll just make him do another quest.” He thought about it a moment and grinned. “Maybe she wants him to get skilled enough with a sword to break her out of that cabinet.”

    “Don’t even think about it,” Poppy said, only half joking. “Come on.”

    They walked down the hall to Poppy’s room just as Alice came out, backpack over one shoulder.

    “See you tomorrow,” she said as she slipped past them. She didn’t look happy, but Zach thought she might just be upset that she was leaving early and that they were going to be hanging out without her. He and Poppy didn’t usually play the game when Alice wasn’t there. But lately Alice seemed to be more bothered by he and Poppy spending time alone together, which he didn’t understand.

    Zach walked into Poppy’s room and flopped down on her orange shag rug. Poppy used to share the room with her older sister, and piles of her sister’s outgrown clothes still remained spread out in drifts, along with a collection of used makeup and notebooks covered in stickers and scrawled with lyrics. A jumble of her sister’s old Barbies were on top of a bookshelf, waiting for Poppy to try to fix their melted arms and chopped hair. The bookshelves were overflowing with fantasy paperbacks and overdue library books, some of them on Greek myths, some on mermaids, and a few on local hauntings. The walls were covered in posters—Doctor Who, a cat in a bowler hat, and a giant map of Narnia. Zach thought about drawing a map of their ­kingdoms—one with the oceans and the islands and everything—and wondered where he could get a big enough piece of paper.

    “Do you think that William likes Lady Jaye?” Poppy asked, settling herself cross-legged on her bed, the pale pink of one knee visible through the rip in her hand-me-down jeans. “Like like likes?”

    He sat up. “What?”

    “William and Lady Jaye,” she said. “They’ve been traveling together awhile, right? I mean, he must like her some.”

    “Sure he likes her,” Zach said, frowning. He pulled his beat-up army surplus duffel bag toward him and stuffed William inside.

    “But, I mean, would he marry her?” Poppy asked.

    Zach hesitated. He was used to being asked how characters felt, and it was a simple question. But there was something in Poppy’s voice that made him think there was a meaning behind it that was less simple. “He’s a pirate. Pirates don’t get married. But, I mean—if he wasn’t a pirate and she wasn’t a crazy kleptomaniacal thief, then I guess he might.”

    Poppy sighed as though that was the worst answer ever given by anyone, but she dropped it. They talked about other things, like how Zach couldn’t play the next day because of basketball practice, whether or not aliens would ever land, and if they did, whether they would be peaceful or not (they both thought not), and which one of them would be more useful in a zombie ­uprising (a draw, since Zach’s longer legs would be better for getting away, and Poppy’s small size was a hiding advantage).

    On the way out, Zach paused in the living room to look at the Queen again. Her pale face was shadowed, but it seemed to him that though her eyes were closed, they weren’t quite as closed as they had been before. While he stared at her, trying to figure out if he was imagining things, her lashes fluttered once, as if stirred by an impossible breeze.

    Or as if she was a sleeper on the verge of awakening.

  • Customer Reviews

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    Doll Bones 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
    Brandy_Muses More than 1 year ago
    Doll Bones is a new Middle Grade title from the talented Holly Black. It is, thus far, my favorite MG read of the year. It is a genre busting title that covers horror, suspense, mystery, and the supernatural. Or it could be a plain old contemporary realistic novel. It is all in how you look it at. Doll Bones follows three twelve year olds who have been friends for years. Zach: He is a talented basketball player and has recently attracted the interest of the cool kids and girls in his middle school. He doesn't want anyone to discover he still plays with action figures with his two friends who are girls, but he also loves it and doesn't want to give it up. Alice: She is a drama girl who loves theater and acting and uses it to escape from her domineering grandmother, who is her guardian. She uses the game with her friends for the same thing and has created ever more dangerous and reckless characters who take the risks she is afraid to take herself. Poppy: She is the youngest of a group of delinquent siblings. Her house is always a mess and her parents have quit trying to maintain order. It is her house the other two come to for their game, and it is Polly who is the diabolical thinker who comes up with all of the games danger and adventure. It is why she often plays the part of villain. The game is complex. These kids created an epic imaginary world culled from tales and myths they read. Into it they placed characters who have real lives and histories. Over this world rules the Queen in her glass tower, an antique china doll belonging to Poppy's mom and locked in a cabinet to keeep her safe. They are invested in their game and everything it entails. Until one day Zach tells the girls he doesn't want to play anymore. Then one night the girls show up and tell him a horrifying story. Poppy released the Queen from the tower hoping she could convince Zach to keep playing. Now she is having dreams about a girl who was murdered. A girl whose bones were ground up and made into a china doll. She is demanding a proper burial in the cemetery in her home town. And she wants Poppy, Zach, and Alice to take her there. All three characters are vivid, layered, and interesting. The story is told in third person from Zach's perspective so it is his thoughts and struggles the reader is most connected to. However, the girls' struggles are also depicted through Zach's interactions with and musings on them, even if he doesn't understand all of what he is seeing. The struggle here between childhood and emerging adolescence is rendered so well. It is happening gradually, yet faster than any of them would like, particularly Poppy who feels like she is being left behind by the other two. There is the struggle to hold on to the things that are most familiar as everything seems to be changing too fast. Yet there is an excitement and anticipation about the changes as well, at least in Zach and Alice. This is a story any middle school kid will find themselves in, they all have this same struggle. Then there is the creepy horror part of the story. And creepy it is. Is Poppy messing with the other two? Spinning a yard to keep them playing the game, keep them attached to her? Or is the Queen really the ghost of murdered girl named Eleanor who is forcing the three to do her bidding by scaring the pants off of them? Black laid out her plot perfectly, setting down each event to keep the reader wondering, asking. Everything that happens to the kids can be
    Punsamia More than 1 year ago
    I listened to this book and loved it very much. I highly recommend this book for anyone, any age. Highly entertaining.
    Stardust_Fiddle More than 1 year ago
    You may never look at a doll in the same way again. Zach, Poppy, and Alice are normal middle-schoolers who always get together to play their own special game, in which they use action figures to concoct creative fantasies involving pirates, sea monsters, and other make-believe characters. However, when Zach’s newly-returned father does something unexpected, it seems that the game may be over forever. That is, until a strange doll—dubbed the Queen—begins haunting Poppy and leads them on a quest to put a young girl’s spirit to rest. Their adventure takes them to East Liverpool, Ohio, and along the way they encounter various obstacles that threaten their success and even their friendship. In the end, however, they learn that some things are worth fighting for and that despite inevitable changes some things, such as camaraderie, can prevail. Holly Black’s “Doll Bones” is a children’s horror novel that explores one of the most common playthings of childhood in a new and disconcerting light. This book is intended for an older adolescent audience, as younger children may struggle with the overall mature vocabulary that Black employs, such as “portmanteau,” “acrid,” and “insomniac,” to name a few. It includes a modified version of the story behind East Liverpool’s Lotus Pottery and provides some historical background information on pottery making. Although it is classified in the horror genre and has a few creepy moments, the story itself is not very frightening and is suitable for older children, who will be able to relate to the characters and their common pre-teen problems, including parents, makeup, friendship, and even dating. “Doll Bones” is a highly imaginative story that delves into the realm of make-believe and emerges with a strong message of friendship and perseverance, making this an interesting and encouraging read.
    JBronder More than 1 year ago
    Zach, Alice, and Poppy have been friends forever and have played with their dolls/action figures with in depth plots. But Zach is turning 12 and his step father thinks he is too old to play with dolls. So, he decides to throw all of them away. Upset and ashamed, Zach stops playing with Alice and Poppy but doesn’t tell them why. Alice and Poppy are confused. Part of it is because Alice is old enough to start having a crush on Zach. Poppy feels left behind and talks both Zach and Alice into solving the Queen’s mystery. The Queen is an antique doll that has been in Poppy’s mother’s case forever. But Poppy says the doll is haunted by a little girl whose bones were used to make the porcelain. Zach, Alice, and Poppy set out for one last adventure to solve the mystery of the Queen. All of the kids are on the verge of adolescence and are trying to come to terms with this. Poppy is the most crushed since she is the youngest and feels everyone is leaving her. Zach is torn between being the adult his step father wants him to be and staying with his childhood friends. Alice lives with her grandmother and is having a hard time with trying to grow up and follow all of the strict rules. Of course the doll is sinister and although it seems like it really wants help it also seems like it is quite happy being evil. This story is meant for midgrade kids but I think anyone would like it. There is a creepy factor without being too scary. I listened to an audio book of this story and a love the narrator. He really drew me into the story.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This books was really fantastical with so many twists and turns you could get lost. It had a great plot and relatible characters. I expecially like how she left it open to write another book ( which I really hope she does :D). It was enjoyable to read. My only dislike was that it was so short. I read it in one day, and one hundred forty pages later there was nothing left to read. Great book and would recommend it to any fiction lovers %100
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love this book
    TheIndigoQuill More than 1 year ago
    See full review at The Indigo Quill . blogspot . com      How deliciously creepy is the cover of this book?? Oh my goodness, I kept passing it at the book store and finally decided to buy it! It also helped that it had a "Newbery Honor" sticker on the front, too. And the part where it says "New York Times best-selling author and co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles."Basically, the entire cover worked in Holly Black's favor. Well played, Miss Black, and kudos to your talented illustrator, Eliza Wheeler. Doll Bones is an adorably sinister book with just the perfect mixture of creepy and innocence to keep a reader hanging on for the ride. It isn't necessarily a children's horror book, but more so a story of friends who are making the transition from adolescence to young adulthood.  I don't want to give the wrong idea by saying "horror" because this book isn't scary, but rather creepy [at times]. I was actually hoping for a little more creepiness, but for the young mind who likes mystery and perhaps has a weak tolerance for things that may give them nightmares, this is a good selection. The doll in this book is sinister and ghostly, but the "scary" factor is fairly minimal. Just don't let your kid read it in the dark. The main character, Zach, was more developed than the two girls as the book is written from his point of view. And although people said it was difficult to tell Poppy and Alice apart, I digress. Poppy was more of a tomboy with an unfettered creative spirit, while Alice was much more genteel, feminine, and way less adventurous (I often questioned if she was at all). For the most part, the characters were believable with their dispositions and angst and their interactions reminded me of all the make-believe I used to play with my friends during my childhood. The only other thing I would complain about is that there were a couple spelling errors I had caught. Minimal, but they were still there. This seems to be more common these days, and with all the technology and editors we have out there, it really shouldn't be. I enjoyed this book, not necessarily for richness of content, but for the sentimentality of watching the characters grow. The Queen played her part well, too, but I definitely don't want her visiting my dreams!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    My hole family loved this book
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great book
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I thik this book is fun to read thak you love you
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Awesome! :-)
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Husterucal scarya
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I love it!!!!!!!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I absolutely love this story. For anyone grades 3 and up.
    poetryfreak38 More than 1 year ago
    This book is about three kids who acquire a haunted doll.  Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends for a long time and they decide to go on a quest to discover who the ghost girl who is visiting and communicating with Poppy is and hat happened to her. This is a great coming of age story. The kids are in the painful stage of changing and growing up. When it is time to focus on becoming who you are and to start putting away childish things. They all struggle with what they want to do and what they feel they should be doing. You watch the characters grow and discover more about themselves and each other.  They are trying to navigate through their changing relationships and trying to help and understand the ghost.  This was a good middle grades book. It was a bit creepy and if you have someone who isn't a big fan of dolls this book is not for them. I loved that the book had some illustrations to go with it. They were very well done and they were so beautifully done. I took the book out of my school's library and plan on buying my own copy of the book. I enjoyed everything about this book. 
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I check this book out at my school library i read all of it twice it was the best book ever and it was not scary a wonder what she wiil anwser the qenation at the end of the book.BOO!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Worst ending ever but great book
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Awesome totally get it. oh and by the way my names B and im nine grandma got it for me
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I think u shoud read this book
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Thi book was pretty good, it definitely sent chills down my spine! The writing is interesting but a little choppy, which makes it difficult to read, but the storyline is very intriguing. Also, the author is very descriptive, and it very easy to get transported into the world yourself. Worth a read- SailorPig23
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It was creepy. If it was not creepy it would have 5 stars.