Scholastic, $18.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0545165636, 2014
When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past–deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.
Did you come away from reading Doll Bones feeling like you got shorted on scary dolls? Try this tale of a struggling family, time travel, and a genuinely creepy, vengeful doll.
Larissa follows the instructions of an unknown girl’s voice on an unplugged antique phone and chases fireflies, which lead her to the past where she can watch her mean girl ancestor lord it over the black servants on the family plantation. With the Civil War not too terribly far in the past, employment for blacks in the South (here, Louisiana) amounted to little better than slavery. When Larissa sees her antecedent commit an injustice against a black girl who works for the family, she slowly realizes the incident is connected to several tragedies her family later suffered, and that her pregnant mother and unborn sister may be the next victims.
Little wisely goes with a mystical explanation of the time travel element rather than a hokey scifi structure, but the specifics are never fully fleshed out. For example, when the mystery caller starts to tell Larissa too much, the call drops, but the story never explains who or what sets and enforces the rules. The focus here is on Larissa’s adventures and also her growth, from angry girl scarred emotionally and physically by a prank gone wrong, to confident tween who can save the day and give new friends a chance. A hair-raising doll and an honest portrayal of racial tension in scenes from the past make for nice touches.
Recommend to: Fantasy fans, but not necessarily historical fiction fans–the historical settings shift and are roughly sketched
To buy or not to buy: Buy.