Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Middle School Book Club - Doll Bones by Holly Black

This month at the middle school book club, I finally got to lead the discussion of Doll Bones by Holly Black, after having suggested it for the book club last year.  Don't let the title or cover fool you, Doll Bones is NOT just for girls by any means!  Not only is the story told from the male character's point of view, it has plenty of creepy occurrences, a gruesome story, and some action. A doll made from the bones and ashes of a dead girl who was cut up and burned in a kiln and whose spirit now haunts the main characters?  This is no more a "girl book" than the horror movie Annabelle was a chick-flick.  The characters are also very relatable to all tweens in their struggle to deal with growing up and all the changes that come with it.  For a longer summary, please see my previous review.

I really liked this book when I first read it, and though it would be great for a tween discussion group, so I was thrilled to see it on the list for this year's book club [the school librarian chooses 5 books each year].  Today I finally got the chance to lead the discussion for it, after leading two previous discussions for Waiting For Normal that had been rather disappointing, even though it is a great book.  I could hardly get the last group I had to say a word!  I would pose a question that should have opened up some discussion, and I would hear crickets.  The one before that was a little more talkative, but they seemed to agree on everything, so not as much discussion.  So, I requested to lead the discussion for Doll Bones the next time, hoping to have better luck.
Discussion Questions/Topics
This time I did not really prepare questions in advance and write them down, as I really didn't think it would be necessary, but I did look over some before I went.  Some of the questions and topics that we discussed (not necessarily in order discussed or in order they happened in the book) were:
1.  What did you think of the book?  Was it what you expected  [They all loved it, but did say it was way creepier than they expected, but in a good way.]
2.  Who was your favorite character and why?
3.  Why do you think Zach didn't tell Poppy and Alice the truth about his dad throwing away his action figures?  How do you think you would have reacted in a similar situation?
4.  Why do you think Zach and Alice each agreed to go on the trip with Poppy to return the doll when they didn't really believe the ghost story at first?
5.  Do you think the doll was responsible for ruining their food and sleeping bag when they camped in the woods, or something else?  If not the doll, what or who?  What motivation would the doll have?  What motivation could someone else have?
6.  Can you identify with having an overly strict guardian like Alice?
7.  Would you be willing to sneak out and accompany your friend on such an adventure?
8.  How were each of the characters struggling with growing up and they changes in both themselves and their friends?  Can you relate to similar "growing pains"?
9.  Do you believe the doll was really possessed by the little girl's spirit, or do you think Poppy was making it up to keep them all together on a new "game"?  [This lead to a fairly long discussion in which each presented her view and events that supported it, including talking about how the power of suggestion can influence one's dreams and how one perceives things.]
10.  How do you think each of the characters were changing in general, and how did they each change specifically over the course of their adventure?
11.  Do you think this is a "girl" book?  [Resounding "No"] Do you think boys would like it if they would give it a try?  [Yes, but they can't get past the word "doll"]  I told them it was their mission now that they've read it to try to convince some of the boys to give it a try.
12.  Do you think this would make a good movie?  [A resounding "Yes!", myself included.]
13.  What other books have you read that you would recommend to someone who enjoyed reading Doll Bones?  [The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, one of last year's book club selections, was mentioned by more than one.  Another girl told us about a book she had read, but I did not recognize it and couldn't find anything with the title she gave that fits the description.  If I figure it out, I will come back and update this post.]
How It Went

This time around, I only had 6 girls show up (no boys, unfortunately), but they were completely opposite of my last group!  They were all very talkative and enthusiastic, and full of opinions!  Yay!  This is what a book discussion group should be like!  They were chomping at the bit, and took off talking about everything.  I occasionally had to reign them back in when they got off topic, or hold some back to let someone else finish what they were saying, but that is SO much better than having a group that doesn't want to say anything! 

They all loved the book, and really got into to discussing the different characters and differing opinions and interpretations of some of the events of the book.  Our discussion was so lively we lost track of time and the librarian had to interrupt us to tell the kids it was time to go.  I really, really wish we had a full hour instead of just 30 minutes.  By the time everyone gets in and settled, we really only have 20 minutes of discussion time.
I really had a great time today.  If only we could convince the boys to read it as well.  My son has also read this book and liked it a lot, so maybe I can get him to convince a couple of the other guys to read it and join the discussion next time.

If you are looking for a book for a class read or a tween book club, I highly recommend Doll Bones!

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