Holly Black, co-author of the best-selling Spiderwick Chronicles and author of several fantasies for teens, aims her latest book, Doll Bones, squarely at the middle-grade audience. Zach, Poppy and Alice have just the right mix of hanging-onto-childhood imaginations and coming-of-age interest in the world beyond make-believe.

For several years, the three friends have been playing an ongoing game with their action figures, but real life is starting to get in the way. When Zach’s father intervenes and prevents Zach from continuing the game, the friendship is challenged and may not be reparable.

The game they’ve been playing becomes more important, however, when Poppy reveals that her mother’s antique china doll—the “queen” of their story—has been haunting her dreams. Poppy steals the doll from the forbidden cabinet in her home, insisting that she and her friends go on a quest as mandated by the “queen,” and from then on, their childlike make-believe starts to become disturbingly real.

This is a spooky story, and the adventure the three embark on is thrilling, but the real drama is the underlying sense of these preteens letting go of childhood and moving into their grown-up selves. Conflicts at home, difficulties relating to each other and secret feelings all combine to make this a great book for those “in-betweeners.” Black’s prose is fluid and lyrical while maintaining its characters’ 13-year-old vocabulary, which will no doubt help the book find a delighted audience in middle-school readers everywhere.

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