Zachary, Alice, and Poppy are three best friends that have long been involved in The Game, an immersive fantasy world where their various toys are actually characters in an elaborate and ever-evolving story. Their game does not involve a playing board or set of dice, but is all a product of their imaginations, which means it can be done anywhere and at any time. However, the trio are getting older, and playing epic quests with toys is starting to become more difficult. Peer pressure and hormones are coming into play. To make things worse, Zachary's dad has recently moved back in with the family, and is trying to reconnect by asserting himself as a father figure. This results in his throwing out all of Zach's toys while Zach is at school, deeming them too babyish and likely to get him teased. Some of those figurines, though, were the characters that Zach played with as his main characters in The Game. Torn by a whirlwind of conflicting emotions - rage at his father, embarrassment when wondering what his basketball friends would say, and a suspicion that maybe he was being too childish after all - Zach doesn't know what to do. Rather than have to explain all of this, and bring up problematic relationship with father, he decides not to tell Poppy and Alice what actually happened. Instead, he says that he thinks The Game is silly and he has outgrown it, and he doesn't want to play any more. Needless to say, both girls are incredibly hurt. Not only do they want Zach to continue playing with them, but they take his words as an indirect insult against them, that they are playing childish games, and think that he might just be saying that he no longer wants to be their friend. Alice backs off because of her injured feelings, but Poppy, following her aggressive nature, keeps picking at it, pushing Zach to act colder and meaner than he intended. When it seems that the trio are heading to certain break up, Poppy approaches Zach with an odd story: she thinks her doll is possessed by a ghost named Eleanor and is communicating with her. At first, Zach ignores Poppy's story. He thinks she is making one last, far-fetched attempt to get him back into The Game. Because the doll is an integral part of their fantasy world: she is the Great Queen, the ruler who runs all of the activities in the made-up land they created. The doll actually belongs to Poppy's mom, and is a delicate, antique toy that is kept secure behind glass. She is like the supreme being of their world. It is not surprising, then, that Zack thinks Poppy is just employing her typical dramatic flair to affect a reconciliation. However, when quiet and more serious Alice tells him that she is on board, Zach agrees to Poppy's plan. Which is that the three of them take the doll to find Eleanor's grave, allowing her to finally be at peace. Of course, the grave isn't in their city, so the three preteen children will have to sneak out, disobey their parents, and steal the doll to make it happen. Considering that all three of them have some unresolved issues with their families - Zach is still mad at his dad and not willing to let him back into his life, Alice is bridling under the strict and overprotective care of her grandmother, and Poppy isn't too happy with her parents hardly being around and leaving their large gang of children to fend for themselves - more issues than the dolls haunting are at stake. They take a bus out of town in the middle of the night, and experience plenty of strange and sometimes unsettling events that make them feel they are on a real-life adventure. A strange man on the bus talks about aliens changing people's faces, one night their campsite is trashed and it seems that only Eleanor (the doll) could have done it, Zach and Poppy keep having strange dreams that seem to be about Eleanor's past life, and they even borrow a boat one day to try to travel more quickly. Eventually they do make it to their desired location, only to realize that resolving Eleanor's problem isn't their only mission on this quest - they also need to make some decisions about their own families and lives. Holly Black creates some amazing fantasy work, and one of my favorite things about reading her stories is she makes the lives and families of her human characters just as important as the fantasy elements they encounter. In fact, in every story I have read by her, the personal inner issues that the central characters are struggling with become entwined with the fantasy adventure that is simultaneously occurring. In this case, the three main characters are not just helping a ghost possessed doll, they are also running away from issues with their families and with their friendship with each other, and their quest for Eleanor forces them to face those realities, as well. That is some great characterization. The author knows how to write fantasy that has heart, depth, and complexity. Another wonderful feature of this particular story is the ambiguity surrounding Eleanor.