Doll Bones

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Doll Bones Book Poster Image
Tween tale is both creepy and sweetly poignant.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story explains that bone china is made with bones. The children head to the library to look for maps and end up finding a wealth of information about the doll and its maker.

Positive Messages

The three friends are worried about the ways they're changing as they stumble toward adolescence. They don't want to rush to grow up, and they don't want to risk their friendship. Beneath the arguing, they're loyal to each other -- and committed to helping the little girl's ghost, even when they aren't sure whether she's real or a figment of Poppy's imagination.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even as they squabble and hide secrets from each other, the three friends show great caring and empathy for one another. The kids make questionable choices in pursuit of their quest: sneaking away from home, breaking into a building, and stealing bikes and a boat. But they do plan to return the bikes, and they call the marina to report where the boat can be found. The adults respond to the children's actions with a surprising degree of compassion -- Zach's father even apologizes for his overbearing behavior. A librarian who finds them insists on contacting their parents.


The ghost story centers on the possible murder of a young girl, whose father then used her remains to make a bone china doll. A strange, leering man on the bus frightens the children, though he doesn't explicitly threaten them. As the friends sleep, their campsite is violently trashed -- but it isn’t clear who (or what) did it.


Passing reference to a Roomba and Twizzlers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Doll Bones scores high on the creepiness scale but isn't actually that violent. It's spooky, the kind of story where it isn't always clear what might be truly supernatural -- or simply the product of an overactive imagination. The most frightening scene may be one involving an unbalanced and aggressively chatty stranger on the bus. The story centers on the mysterious death of a girl long ago, but the real thrust of the novel is how the three main characters struggle to navigate the changes of early adolescence. All three tweens are coping with difficult family backgrounds, and one child lost her parents in an accident. They leave on an overnight journey without alerting their parents.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykristinm2 March 3, 2015

Scarier than expected, very compelling for older kids

My eight year old, an advanced reader, searched for this book at the library many times. Once she finally found it, we started reading it together. It wasn... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 11, 2020

Not as scary as I hoped

It's a very interesting tale of this porcelain doll called the Queen. It turns out that she's filled with ashes of an actual child and needs to be bur... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRy Rose July 1, 2019

Really surprised

I first saw this book when I was ten and was scared to death by it. A couple years later I actually picked it up and read it and fell in love. This book is supe... Continue reading

What's the story?

Now that he's 12, Zach is being pushed by his dad to abandon action figures and the long-running, imaginative storytelling game he plays with his friends, Poppy and Alice. Since they were very young, they've been telling tales of pirates, mermaids, and the Great Queen, an antique bone china doll locked in a glass cabinet. But when Zach quits the game, Poppy claims she's been having dreams that the Great Queen is tied to the ghost of a young girl, who she says she'll haunt them until they bury the doll in her proper grave. Zach sets off with his friends on this final quest, though he's uncertain whether the ghost story is real or a desperate bid by Poppy to keep the game -- and their friendship -- alive.

Is it any good?

DOLL BONES is just spooky enough to bewitch kids who love spine-tingling tales without violence or gore. But the real treasure lies beneath: Author Holly Black artfully hones in on a bittersweet turning point of childhood -- that strange time when you leave freewheeling pretend play behind for more mature pursuits, like sports and dating. "I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying," laments Poppy, who's starting to feel like the third wheel as Zach and Alice awkwardly deal with the first stirrings of romantic feelings.

Black may be familiar to young readers as the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles. With Doll Bones, she offers middle-schoolers a pitch-perfect coming-of-age adventure with goose bumps. And Eliza Wheeler's artwork -- including the sinister cover and black-and-white illustrations inside -- are lovely.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the use of horror in a friendship tale. Why are horror stories so appealing? Would a story about these friends be as interesting without the supernatural element?

  • The kids steal a boat and some bikes and break into a library in pursuit of their goal. Do the ends justify the means?

  • Zach wonders whether the doll is somehow possessing them. Later, Poppy says seeing her friends change is like seeing them become possessed. How is the doll used as symbol for what's happening among the trio of friends?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love spooky stuff

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