The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Dave McKean
Rating: 8 out of 10 (finished 1/7/10)
Synopsis: While a highly motivated killer murders his family, a baby, ignorant of the horrific goings-on but bent on independence, pulls himself out of his crib and toddles out of the house and into the night. This is most unfortunate for the killer, since the baby was his prime target. Finding his way through the barred fence of an ancient graveyard, the baby is discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a stable and caring couple with no children of their own—and who just happen to be dead. After much debate with the graveyard’s rather opinionated denizens, it is decided that the Owenses will take in the child. Under their care and the sponsorship of the mysterious Silas, the baby is named “Nobody” and raised among the dead to protect him from the killer, who relentlessly pursues him. This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming. Although marketed to the younger YA set, this is a rich story with broad appeal and is highly recommended for teens of all ages.
Overall Impression: I’d seen this gothic fantasy highly recommended in several different places, and as I read my first Neil Gaiman last year (Good Omens, co-written with Terry Pratchett), I was really excited to pick up The Graveyard Book. It’s quite macabre for children’s/YA literature. The book starts out with the murder of a family and the chasing of a toddler to a graveyard, for goodness’ sake. From there, the ghostly residents of the graveyard vow to raise the boy, whom they name Nobody (Bod for short). Through a series of what are essentially short stories, we see Bod’s childhood and his struggle to be alive in an unalive world (although I’d hardly call it dead). He is also given unique powers so that he can walk through walls, Fade, use the Fear, and do other things that any young boy would find really cool. But he is isolated from the world and we find him in a place that many kids find themselves — lonely, in a grown-up world they have a hard time understanding. Gaiman’s writing is so fluid and beautiful, and each story is captivating and magical in a different way. Some are scary, some show Bod how to love, and some show the struggle to just get by. Top this off with Gaiman’s quirky sense of humor, and you get a book that’s nearly impossible to put down. The end felt a little rushed, but overall Gaiman wrapped it up nicely. Like in real life, Bod doesn’t get everything he wants, and he has to deal with heartbreak along the way. But somehow, being raised by ghosts and his odd not-dead/not-alive guardian Silas, Bod is just as real as any child out there. It’s a keen allegory of the life of any kid.
Pros: Gaiman’s writing is so good. It’s soft but satisfying, and it’s scary – but somehow the reader always feels safe. It’s very dreamy, sort of like a fog. I also loved Bod’s struggles within himself, especially when he encounters the living — Scarlett (a girl he befriends in the graveyard) and the bullies at school. The illustrations, by Dave McKean, also added to the spooky, ethereal feel of the novel. I have got to get my hands on a copy of Coraline!
Cons: The ending felt a bit abridged. Much like this cons list.
Other books I’ve read by Neil Gaiman: Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett)