Doll Bones is the story of three friends, Poppy, Alice, and Zach, who share a long-running game of imaginary play. Yes, they play with dolls, creating a serialized story that the friends have spun over many years. But the three are in middle school now, and the game has wound down and become more secretive. Alice, and especially Zach, start pulling away. A boy playing dolls with two girls is potentially problematic, especially now that Zach is a basketball star, and other girls are beginning to notice him. So when Poppy shows up outside Zach’s window in the middle of the night, claiming an emergency involving the china doll they call the Queen, Zach can’t help wondering if Poppy is for real, or just trying to force the game to outlive its natural lifespan. Poppy is pretty convincing, however, and she persuades Zach and Alice to sneak away to help rescue the Queen.
The remainder of the book is a journey: an actual journey to take the Queen home, and a journey of trust and coming-of-age among three friends, whose childhood relationship is changing despite themselves. You will root for these characters and want them to succeed in both their quests.
There are really two questions that young readers and their parents will be asking about Doll Bones:
1. Is it too scary?
Yesterday I had another opportunity to be a part of our local NPR station’s noontime call-in show, Maine Calling, to discuss literacy. (You can listen to the podcast here) The show was inspired by a recent Annie E. Casey Study linking grade-level reading by 3rd grade with later success as measured by high school graduation rates and earnings potential in adulthood. Of course, this is an incredibly complex subject, rife with issues of socioeconomics, parent education levels, brain development, and the efficacy of standardized tests. Luckily, my role on the panel was the easy one: I got to talk about what parents and caregivers can do on a daily basis to promote literacy with the kids in their lives.
I recently reviewed Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell’s other best-selling book of 2013, and now I have to tell you about Eleanor and Park, because it so darn good. Rowell has a gift for dialogue, and for creating characters that you fall madly in love with even though they are flawed, because they creep inside your heart and live there long after you turn the last page.
Rainbow Rowell is what’s next for smart teen readers.