Monday, July 1, 2013

Audiobook Review: Doll Bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Audiobook narrator - Nick Podehl

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...

 Going by the blurb, I had expected this book to have more than a passing resemblance to Goosebumps - pseudo-supernatural scary parts mixed in a with a middle grade adventure.  I can't say I was truly disappointed in the story, since "what I expected" isn't a legal contract to a book's contents.  I can say that the story is solid, if not what I thought it was going to be.
The characters are clearly all going through the growing pains of middle school while still holding on to that magical part of childhood where imagination is just as entertaining as any game.  The three friends have made up a grand storyline with different action figure - a repainted GI Joe figurine, a pirate - and they made up glorious continuing adventures for them.  It's really a throwback to my long-ago middle school days and a pleasant nostalgic expedition.
All three have well-defined characteristic, given that the narrative is handled entirely through Zach's point of view.  Poppy is a bit of a dreamer, an occasional liar, and definitely a latchkey kid who holds herself together through the stories she and her friends tell.  Alice is a do-gooder (in the best way) and wants to follow the rules.  Zach doesn't want to look stupid, he wants to keep his friends, and he wants to please his teammates and parents.  Now that he's in middle school, he's finding that he might have to disappoint someone and it's a painful realization. 
There is a potentially terrifying story of a possessed doll which has a decidedly "Chucky" vibe.  I think this was the biggest let-down of the story.  There were definitely creepy parts of the story, don't get me wrong.  There were a few times where I honestly thought that something genuinely ghost-possession-poltergeist was about to happen, but other than setting a bleak and shifty mood, they didn't really pan out.  There were just was many moments when I thought "Poppy is just lying about this whole thing" which really rather spoiled any building-horror-momentum that the story had going.
By the time the resolution appears, I wasn't certain how the story was going to end, but I was largely happy with the result.  This book ends up being as much as coming-of-age tale as a supernatural spookfest, and I suppose that's alright.
The audiobook narrator was fine.  He made each of the voices more or less distinct and after a while I didn't notice - which I think is exactly what you should aim for in an audiobook narrator.

If you're looking for a scary ghost story, this is probably going to disappoint.  If you're looking for a bildungsroman with a creepy twist, this is probably more up your alley.
3.5 stars.

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