I've mainly listened to the Divergent series by Veronica Roth and most of A Series of Unforunate Events by Lemony Snicket. But in between, I've listened to a few other audiobooks. One of those was Doll Bones by Holly Black.
Doll Bones was recommended to me by my mom as a light, fun adventure story for middle school readers. She was exactly right. The story follows three middle school kids--Zach, Poppy, and Alice--as they embark on an adventure across state lines to bury a creepy doll that may have been made from the bones of a dead girl. I know, a little spooky, right? As these three go about their adventure, they get themselves into all kinds of trouble and weird situations. Despite not being a huge fan of creepy/spooky stories, I adored this book.
First, the characters were distinct and realistic. Each one is going through a "coming of age" time in life, whether it's learning to put away childish things, developing first crushes, or trying to hold on to the innocence and imagination of childhood. They all had their own personality, their own ups and downs of life, and their own desires and dreams. It was refreshing to see so much detail poured into characters for a middle school book. A lot of middle school reads can fall flat or are only "so-so" developed because people think kids that age don't need stories with rich details and full development. (Hint: every book should be developed fully, even books for children.)
Second, the story was interesting. The details surrounding the mystery of the doll were definitely gripping. I can easily see this being something a middle school kid would be drawn to. But at the same time, it's much more than just a spooky story for kids. It's a story about adventure and friendship and finding a way to cope with growing up. At the beginning of the story, Zach--despite being a 12-year-old boy--loves to play with action figures to make up stories. Due to some incidents, he starts to realize the... implications of playing with "dolls" and with girls. But throughout the story, it's the art of story-making and utilizing the imagination that makes their adventure work. And I love that idea. Because the heart of this story isn't about a creepy doll; it's about a group of kids that love to make up stories and trying to find a way to hold on to that while the world is telling them to grow up and get over themselves.
As a writer--and the kid who wanted to play with dolls forever--I wish this story was marketed more than just "creepy doll! scary story! murder! aaah!" I wish it was marketed as a story about kids learning to continue their "play" and their "imaginations" and their "story-telling" even when they grow out of playing with dolls. That's what it's about: three kids who like to make up stories, to make up worlds and characters, trying to find how they can continue even when they get older.
The only big problem I had with the story is that the kids don't get punished in the end for running away or stealing things or breaking into the library. I think they needed to get punished, but they didn't. Instead they finished their quest and things seemed to be working out pretty great for them. But that's now always how life works. And as a story that hinges on the subject of a "coming-of-age" story arc, making it realistic is important.
In addition, I thought the narrator of the audiobook--Nick Podehl--did a splendid job of narrating. He did well with the different characters, the internal thoughts of Zach, and the overall story. While the story is told in limited third-person perspective, it still felt as if Zach might have been telling the story in some manner, which makes, once more, the heart of the story that much more significant.
Overall, Doll Bones was different yet entertaining. I will definitely recommend this book to pre-teens and early teens. It was fun, full of adventure with a slight creepy factor with a resounding message for all kids--not just story-tellers or writers--to understand.
Have you read Doll Bones? What's your favorite Middle School level read?