These three twelve-year-old kids, Alice, Poppy, and Zach, have a healthy imagination and play together in an elaborate fantasy world they've created, featuring pirates and mermaids, and evil queens, based on their respective toys - action figures, Barbie dolls, and this one bone china doll in Poppy's mom's cabinet. The way Holly Black evokes these kids and their passion for this fantasy world is remarkable. The way it's read by Nick Podehl contributed greatly to the atmosphere and representation of the kids, too. I can only speculate uselessly how I would have found this novel had I read it first rather than listened to it. I would still have liked it, but would I have liked it as much? More? It's impossible to say, just as it's impossible to say if I would have disliked it had the narrator been rather nauseating. You pays your money and you takes your chance! Except that in this case it's "You borrows your audiobook ...."
Zach's dad thinks Zach is too old and too male to be playing with dolls, so he throws out all of Zach's figures one day while Zach is at school. The boy already resented his father for disappearing for some time before slowly sliding his way back into the family, but now Zach honestly hates him. For reasons which I didn't feel were well explained, Zach is too embarrassed to admit to the girls that his toys were thrown away, so he brusquely states that he's done playing these childish games. This begins a thread of discord which runs uncomfortably through this story like a out-of-the-way itch
The girls are crushed, but he's adamant about his decision, until late one night Alice and Poppy show up outside his bedroom window with a story that Poppy has been having night-time visitations from the ghost of the bone china doll, which she says is made from real bones of a dead girl who wants to be buried or she will curse them. Poppy has some actual ashes and bone fragments she says were inside the doll. They look like they came from someone's cremated remains.
Zach isn't sure that she's being honest, and he only half-way believes the ghost story, but he's impressed by Poppy's earnest demeanor, and by Alice's bravery at risking being grounded for life by her strict grandmother. Alice said she would only go with Poppy if Zach came, and Poppy was determined to go alone if she had to. Zach may have been skeptical, but impressed by the strength of conviction in his friends, and interested in one more adventure with the girls, the three of them hop on a bus to East Liverpool in the wee hours. it's a three hour ride to whence this dead girl supposedly hailed. Their plan is to bury her and lift the curse.Thus begins their quest! The story is told well and has a lot of action and adventure, and some interesting conversations and shifting allegiances. There are some less than noble behaviors indulged in by these three kids, and I would have liked to have seen some sort of remorse or cost to the kids resulting from these, but there was none. I didn't like that. That aside, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend it not only for age-appropriate readers (/listeners!), but for anyone who likes a good adventure story.