Holly Black’s Doll Bones (Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99) and Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99) both deal with the transition from childhood to adulthood, but are very different in their approach to the process. Hokey Pokey imagines an almost idealized world of childhood, where the rules are a little less formalized that the wild frontier. Kids rein bikes like horses; they move in packs, and there is a clear distinction between boys and girls. This world is filled with candy, games, and not a little recklessness. It doesn’t quite fit with my own memories of childhood and I do wonder how kids under 12 will respond to it. Do they recognize their own world in this book? Is it only possible to see childhood, once you’re looking back? The biggest problem I had, though, was the insinuation that the the border between childhood and adulthood was both abrupt and definitive. Once you leave Hokey Pokey, or ‘grow up’, there is no going back. One day you’re a kid. The next day you’re an adult, which doesn’t seem very realistic to me. I don’t know any kids who make the transition easily and singularly. I certainly didn’t.
Alternatively, Doll Bones also narrates the transition from childhood to adulthood, but despite the fantastic elements this book feels more realistic. First, the transition isn’t so abrupt, but rather happens over a journey. Also, there is a significant internal conflict about the change for each character, that varies from character to character. Zach’s dilemmas are different than Alice’s, who again is struggling with different things than Poppy. Finally, by the end of the book, although Zach, Poppy, and Alice have grown up, there is a clear sense that they each have more growing up to do and that on occasion, they might even ‘relapse’ and not grow up at all. Doll Bones is described as “spooky” and “scary”, which I didn’t find when reading it. I liked the ambiguity, even at the end (and I don’t think this is a spoiler) about whether the game was a game or the game was real. Because games are always real. And reality is a game. And I see no reason to make a distinction. Is Doll Bones a ghost story or a growing up story? Well, yes. Also, Black demonstrates that gender is just as fluid as ‘growing up’. Zach enjoys playing imagination games with dolls in the afternoon with Poppy and Alice. He also likes playing basketball. He doesn’t switch from boy to girl. He’s a boy who likes a variety of things. He doesn’t broadcast his afternoon games — he knows that some of the other boys wouldn’t approve — but he doesn’t feel the need to stop either. Doll Bones is ultimately about the between spaces. Maybe it is a ghost story after all.