Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
When Zach's father insists that the games he-and friends Poppy and Alice-play with dolls must end, the three friends refuse to let their imaginations die. Instead, they set out on an epic adventure involving a china doll that just might be made from the bones of a murdered girl. And along the way, they discover that there could be more to what was once a simple backyard game. Narrator Nick Podehl delivers a fun-filled reading that will delight this audiobook's young-adult target audience. Podhel delivery is simple, his pacing steady, and his performance one that skillfully captures all the action of this imaginative tale. Ages 10-14. A Margaret K. McElderry paperback. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Gr 5-8-Black's tale (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013) of friendship and the trials of growing up is set against the backdrop of a spooky ghost story. Zach Barlow loves to make things up. He and his friends Poppy and Alice spend every afternoon concocting new adventures for their dolls and action figures. However, Zach's recently returned father is less than thrilled about his son spending his time playing with dolls instead of taking part in more age-appropriate activities, such as basketball. When he commits a drastic act to force Zach to give up his play-acting, it precipitates a series of events that send Zach, Poppy, and Alice on a midnight quest to lay to rest the soul of a murdered girl, a soul that now inhabits a bone china doll. Along the way, the trio uncovers secrets about the past and one another, and discovers that they are capable of more than they ever realized. Nick Podehl expertly voices the three friends as well as the unforgettable characters Tin-Shoe Joe and the pink-haired librarian, Miss Katherine. Black has written an adventurous ghost tale that fans of Mary Downing Hahn and Peg Kehret and devotees of the author's previous novels will love.-Michaela Schied, formerly, Indian River Middle School, Philadelphia, NY (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* A trio of adolescents goes on a quest to satisfy the demands of a ghost. Sounds like standard middle-grade fare, but in Black's absolutely assured hands, it is anything but. Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been playing the same make-believe game for years, one involving pirates and mermaids and, of course, the Great Queen a creepy, bone-china doll at Poppy's house. Then Poppy reveals that she's been haunted by a girl whose ground-up bones lie inside the Great Queen, so the doll must be properly buried. Begrudgingly, the three agree to play one last game and hope against hope for a real adventure, the kind that changed you. With heart-wrenching swiftness, Black paints a picture of friends at the precipice of adulthood; they can sense the tentative peace of youth that is about to be demolished. The tightly focused, realistic tale bladed with a hint of fairy-tale darkness feels cut from the very soul of youth: there is no sentimentality, no cuteness, only the painful, contradictory longing to move forward in one's life without leaving anything behind. Stories about the importance of stories ( Maybe no stories were lies, thinks Zach) don't come much more forthright and affecting than this one. Wheeler's sketches ameliorate some of the tension and dread not a bad thing. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Black's best-selling Spiderwick Chronicles pave the way for this powerful stand-alone, which comes with an author tour, in-theater promos, and more.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2010 Booklist
Horn Book Review
Twelve-year-old Zach and his longtime friends Poppy and Alice have created an elaborate, ongoing imaginative game they act out with their dolls and action figures. When his dad throws away Zach's figurines ("it's time you grew up"), the distraught boy abandons the game with little explanation to the others ("you can't play pretend forever"). Poppy attempts to lure him back with the game's all-powerful Great Queen, a bone-china doll so precious that Poppy's mother keeps it in a locked cabinet. Poppy takes the queen, only to be haunted in her dreams by the ghost of a girl whose ashes are inside the doll. The ghost won't rest until she has been properly buried, so Poppy persuades Alice and Zach to journey with her to the girl's gravesite. The impromptu trip includes a scary bus ride, eerie supernatural encounters, and an action-packed sailboat voyage, all of which provide ample thrills for readers, with Wheeler's pencil illustrations softening spooky aspects of the adventure. The narrative is uneven: while the doll is believably creepy, the horror elements and the ghost story remain underdeveloped, as do Poppy and Alice's characters, and the resolution is rather abrupt. But through Zach's complex perspective, author Black poignantly and realistically captures how adolescence inherently brings change; how growing up affects the ways children play; and the inevitable tests friendships face. cynthia k. ritter (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
A middle-grade fantasy dons the cloak of a creepy ghost tale to deliver bittersweet meditations on the nature of friendship, the price of growing up and the power of storytelling. The lifelong friendship of Zach, Poppy and Alice revolves around their joint creation, an epic role-playing saga of pirates and perils, queens and quests. But now they are 12, and their interests are changing along with their bodies; when Zach's father trashes his action figures and commands him to "grow up," Zach abruptly quits the game. Poppy begs him to join her and Alice on one last adventure: a road trip to bring peace to the ghost possessing her antique porcelain doll. As they travel by bus and boat (with a fateful stop at the public library), the ghost seems to take charge of their journey--and the distinctions between fantasy and reality, between play and obligation, begin to dissolve....Veteran Black packs both heft and depth into a deceptively simple (and convincingly uncanny) narrative. From Zach's bitter relationship with his father to Anna's chafing at her overprotective grandmother to Poppy's resignation with her ramshackle relations, Black skillfully sketches their varied backgrounds and unique contributions to their relationship. A few rich metaphors--rivers, pottery, breath--are woven throughout the story, as every encounter redraws the blurry lines between childishness and maturity, truth and lies, secrecy and honesty, magic and madness. Spooky, melancholy, elegiac and ultimately hopeful; a small gem. (Fantasy. 10-14)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.