Book Review - Doll Bones

Author: Holly Black
Illustrator:  Eliza Wheeler
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (May 7, 2013)
Source:  Finished Copy for review by publisher
Audience: Ages 9 to 13
Fiction * Friendship * Coming of Age * Ghost Story

Description from GoodReads:
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity...

My thoughts on the book:
Doll Bones by Holly Black is a middle grade tale that will hook readers in and hold onto them until the end. It is the story of three 12 year olds – Zach, Alice, and Poppy – who have created an elaborate storytelling/role-playing game with action figures and dolls. When Zach’s father throws away Zach’s bag of action figures in a misguided attempt to help his son “grow up”, it sets in motion a series of actions and reactions that lead the three children on a journey of discovery and change.

Zach’s refusal to play the storytelling games and his fear in telling Alice and Poppy the truth leads Poppy to remove the “Queen” (a bone china doll) from her mother’s cabinet. Poppy reveals to Alice and Zach that the doll contains the actual ashes of a young girl who died. The girl’s ghost has asked to be returned to her grave in East Liverpool, OH (which is a long bus ride from where the children live in PA). Whether Alice and Zach really believe Poppy, each child strikes out on the journey for his/her own reasons. The reader is left to decide whether the doll is really communicating with Poppy.

Part of Black’s brilliance in her storytelling is that she has chosen to keep the story firmly in reality. Readers like the children have to come to their own conclusion about the Doll; however, each piece of the journey never seems contrived, but seems like something a group of tweens could have undertaken. This also keeps the balance between being just right scary vs. frightening scary.

Ultimately, Doll Bones is significantly more than a ghost story. It is a deep story of friendship, change, growing up, and leaving things behind. This is a journey story that results in characters growing and evolving in a meaningful way. The story is well-crafted without using more words than are needed. The pacing moves deliberately and never once did I want to scan a paragraph or skip a page. Additionally, Black is spot on with the voice of each of the tweens. It is easy to have children sound younger or older than they are, but here, the dialogue was real. The inclusion of dramatic dialogue that comes from times when the children fall into their character roles never dominates or takes over the story and just works to enhance the adventure.

In my opinion, Black has written her best story to date.  A book that will be in high demand once the children in classrooms or libraries learn about it.  And though I have absolutely no control over the decisions of the 2014 Newbery Committee, may I just say, I would be ecstatic if Doll Bones came away as a winner.

This is Holly Black's first foray back into the world of books for Middle Graders after a string of successful Young Adult novels.  For young fans, who may have missed her work on the Spiderwick Chronicles with Tony DiTerlizzi, Simon and Schuster has re-released the series with all new covers to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field Guide.  Click here to see all of the covers.

For more information on Holly Black: website | blog | twitter | facebook | tumblr | pinterest

Book Review - Clockwork Prince

Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date:
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Copy borrowed from a friend

Description from GoodReads:
In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa's powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister's war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will; the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?

As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

Thoughts on the book:
I am not a reader who focuses on writing style, in particular. I do believe that anyone who can breakdown my mental block when it comes to poetry must have some skill. That being said, I really enjoy the way that Cassandra Clare writes. She is able to create a fully dimensional world without being stuck on her descriptions in general. She has a good feel for the world of Steampunk that her characters inhabit. I never feel like I am being taking miles from the story just to hear about it’s surroundings or atmosphere; that is a very big deal breaker for me. We can also see, as readers, how much she loves books. Her descriptions of them and the libraries they are found in just makes me all the more comfortable in her world allowing my imagination to soar faster and higher.

I mostly read for character and plot. Characters are a strong suit for Cassandra. They come across as human which is the first and most important element to catching the interest of readers, especially this one. The Clockwork Prince gives us a more in-depth look at the relationship between Jem and Will. The elements that I found most endearing were how as parabatai they found new strength in their connection as well as hidden strengths as individuals. The best surprise in this latest installment was the growth in Sophie. I was always intrigued by her origin in the story but in this book, we really get to see her character shine. Henry and Charlotte’s relationship adds an unexpected element of warmth to this book which I was delighted to experience and enjoy. We, also, get a bigger view of the Shadowhunters and their world past and present allowing for some interesting new characters, old enemies and friends (Magnus Bane is one of the best things in this book.) a chance to grow and add some mystery. The only character drawback I experienced was in Tessa. Even as she was going through the turmoil that the overall plot called for, I found myself wishing she could be a little less conflicted and indecisive. Her “will she, won’t she” dragged the action and my reading at times.

The plot is delivered as any second book in my opinion. Mortmain’s role is intriguing but not all that menacing. As a setup for a future confrontation, I do think it works. We are given a small bit of resolution and fuller insight to the mystery of Tessa and Will as individuals so I feel the job of continuing the action was done sufficiently. (Again, let me say that Magnus Bane is a great plot device and I can’t wait to see what he does next.)

Overall, I enjoyed the read and the few surprises it held. I am definitely awaiting the next installment with reserved anticipation.

Thanks Kate for this review of Clockwork Prince.  We are looking forward to more book reviews from you in the future.