Doll Bones by Holly Black – A Germinal Idea

Synopsis: 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.


For the Writer:  The picture on the cover of this novel is the figure, the literary device around which Holly Black builds her story. I will not reveal too much to say the doll has been cast using the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. *Not my disclosure, see author’s synopsis above.

The image, though grisly and possibly better suited to an older audience, is compelling and as a narrative hook, enough to suspend the weight of a novel. The ossuary doll is a proposition for the reader, the path upon which for an answer we want to walk. In addition, the doll is a proposition for the writer; a challenge to construct a story around an artifact. It is left to the novelist to dig up the artifact; a painting, a sculpture, flea market treasures, curiosities from Grandma’s attic will all present nuclei around which your atom grows, electron by orbiting electron.

Speaking of orbiting electrons or sub-stories constructed around the nucleus, H. Black suspends her germinal idea on the lives, loves and ambitions of modern-day high schoolers living in Pennsylvania, who travel to East Liverpool, Ohio. The most interesting sub-story construct involves role-playing and an imagined world, which the three protagonists create to amuse themselves, at least on the surface. Their created world weaves into their real-life quest and becomes a subconscious cathartic experience whose repercussions ripple throughout the novel; a really clever idea.

Though the linking of subplots – the protagonist’s created world and their somewhat vague home lives – supporting the provocative central figure of the bone doll were at times tenuous, the novel remains a great lesson in constructing a layered narrative to orbit around a germinal idea.

The central figure in Doll Bones – the cryptic doll – inspires the writer to another possibility in the formative stages of constructing a novel.



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