Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genre: children's/ MG fantasy
Pages: 312 (hardcover edition)
Published: 2008 by HarperCollins

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.  Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family . . .

Well, I am one of those people who likes Neil Gaiman.  It seems like about half of readers love this guy's books to death from the first page-- they say things like he's an ultra-imaginative, clever genius, one of the most enchanting writers of our age.  The other half tend to come to the conclusion that he's a little overrated, or that his stories are too confusing to follow, a little dark, and just plain weird.  I totally agree with Gaiman's critics: his short stories more than his novels can lean towards bizarre, but I think he's a genius anyway.  What I like most about his novels is how he takes a fantastical plot or setting (in this case, a graveyard) filled with unusual and often mysterious characters (here, a whole host of ghostly inhabitants and Bod's guardian Silas, a man who is neither alive nor dead) and weaves a brilliant, entertaining, and surprisingly believable story about human values and life.  Yep, he is a genius in my eyes.

The Graveyard Book is a coming-of-age story whose premise is loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.  After an assassin called the man Jack murders his parents and sister, Bod is taken in by a long-dead couple who live in the cemetery by his old house.  Bod learns to read from the engravings on tombstones, sleeps in a crypt, and his guardian is kind of a vampire-- but in all the important ways, he's still an ordinary boy, meaning that he really can't stay out of trouble.  He befriends a dead teenage witch from unconsecrated ground, goes into town to attend school (and gives the local bullies a little hell), and steals an ancient artifact from an ancient tomb where even the oldest ghosts don't dare to venture.  But when the man Jack, along with a shadowy league of assassins who have wanted Bod dead since he first disappeared into the graveyard, return to finish the job of murdering Bod's family, Bod will be forced to use every supernatural trick and bit of uncanny knowledge he has learned from growing up among the tombstones to defeat them.

The Graveyard Book is actually a somewhat cheerier tale than Coraline, Gaiman's other middle-grade-type book.  The premise of a boy whose family is murdered and grows up in a graveyard sounds darker than one about a girl who finds another world and another mother through a door in her apartment-- but it isn't.  The Graveyard Book is far lighter in tone and far less slightly disturbing than Coraline, because the ghosts and strange beings Bod meets are more well-developed, likeable, and generally benevolent characters than the creepy Other Mother and the denizens of Coraline.  My favorite part of the book-- other than the climactic and amazing ending-- is the story about the young girl Bod meets who was accused of being a witch and killed back in medieval times.  This dead girl, Liza Hempstock, was the first character Gaiman wrote about for the story besides Bod, and she is definitely one of the most memorable: she has a great sassy personality despite the way she died, yet her story is so sad.  Bod's quest to find a proper headstone for this girl is a bittersweet and amazing sub-plot in the story. 

The Graveyard Book, along with all of other Neil Gaiman's other books for children and middle-grade readers, is definitely one I would want my future daughter read.  The story is also subtle enough that adults can read it and enjoy the nostalgic feelings of childhood which are strong in Bod's story despite the unusual nature of his childhood.  Fascination with a strange and sinister-seeming neighbor, being babysat by unlikely and ill-qualified candidates, spending the day with a new, quickly-made friend and having to say goodbye too soon, sneaking off to forbidden places... like Mowgli's, Bod's story is one we can relate to despite the strangeness of his circumstances.  I can't recommend this book enough, for children, teens, and adults.  Now, I want Neil Gaiman to hurry up and release his next novel The Ocean At the End of the Lane-- which comes out on my birthday!

Book Rating:


Nariman jelveh said...
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nrlymrtl said...

This is one of my favorite Gaiman books. Well, I would be hardpressed to say which is my fave, but The Graveyard Book always gives me a warm fuzzy whenever I read it. Late last year Stainless Steel Droppings hosted a read along of this book, which was a lot of fun - sharing this book with a group of bloggers. I believe he intends to host one for Stardust starting April 1st. I hope I can work that into my schedule.

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Katie said...

I have yet to read a book by Neil Gaiman, but I've been dying to! Seriously, everything in your review makes me want to read it. I've seen Coraline, (the movie, I know totally not the same thing) but it freaked me out so I was put off his books for a while, but I'm glad that even though the boy lost his parents and grows up in a graveyard isn't as dark as Coraline. Definitely trying this one too! Thanks Kat!! :)

Rachel Bradford said...

I loved this book too. So creative! And fun!

Marlene Detierro said...

I am now looking forward to reading more of Neil Gaiman, as well as Kipling's "The Jungle Book," from which Mr. Gaiman drew his inspiration for this story.

I absolutely recommend this book; read it aloud to your older children--they will be captured by the story, and I bet most adults will too!

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