School’s out! And Holly Black’s spooky new novel is the perfect way to start the summer break.

Black trades the dark fairies and goblins of her popular Spiderwick Chronicles series for a creepy China doll that haunts best friends Zach, Alice and Poppy. To discover the doll’s sad history and lay her to rest, the three kids travel by bus, foot and pirated sailboat, deal with a vagrant named Tinshoe Jones and even dine on a Pepto-Bismol-flavored doughnut. All this makes for a compelling, chill-at-the-nape tale with dynamics and emotional depth reminiscent of the fraught, funny coming-of-age film “Stand by Me” (1986).

At 12, Zach, Alice and Poppy are well aware that their changing bodies and interests will soon propel them into adulthood. As Zach observes, in their run-down town, every grownup’s story is about “giving up and growing bitter.” A kind of desperation fuels their quest: Zach, Alice and Poppy want a big adventure to mark an end to childhood and to set them apart from their frazzled, overworked parents.

The novel’s eerie vibe and eek-worthy plot may keep readers turning pages into the wee hours, but it’s the vivid characters and skillfully developed themes of identity, friendship and loss that linger long in the mind, like a ghostly wind “singing through the trees.”

Mary Quattlebaum

“Doll Bones” by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry)


By Holly Black

Margaret K. McElderry. $16.99. Ages 10-14