Doll Bones by Holly Black is Middle Grade, but more than spooky enough for my tender sensibilities.
What I love most about this book is that it’s really about making stories, and the power of making stories.
Narrator Zach and his friends Poppy and Alice play complex imaginative games together with coherent fantasy worldbuilding, self-made props, and an array of dolls (Zach’s are “action figures”), including a terrifying, valuable antique Poppy’s mother keeps locked in a cabinet. Zach is twelve and has recently shot up in height and begun playing basketball; though he loves playing the game, he’s beginning to feel a little embarrassed that his best friends are girls, a feeling exacerbated by his father’s discomfort with his son’s interest in things other than sports. Poppy, the child of neglectful parents, wants to lead and control their games, and gets uncomfortable when the others put their own spin on her ideas. Alice, who is sometimes cruelly teased, struggles against her immigrant grandmother’s strict rules about her behavior. All three children are keeping important secrets from each other, while being more honest than they know while playing the game.
For such a short book, I found it emotionally intense and, as an adult reader, immensely poignant. I loved the creepy doll plot with its realistic historical elements. Excellent reading for October!