The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

graveyard_bookAuthor: Neil Gaiman; Illustrator: Dave McKean
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Pages: 320
Call number: Y Gaiman; J Gaiman

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife . . . .

So begins Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which won the 2009 Newbery Medal just a few days ago. The book opens with the off-page but still disturbing murder of an entire family by an assassin we know as the man Jack. The only survivor is a toddler who, not understanding what’s happening elsewhere in the house, leaves by the open front door and wanders into a nearby graveyard. There, the ghosts hold a meeting to decide what to do with this foundling, and the boy is eventually adopted by the ghost couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owens. Because noone knows his name, he’s called Nobody — Nobody Owens, Bod for short. Silas, a member of the graveyard who is neither living nor dead (I’m sure you can figure out what that means), is appointed Bod’s guardian, however, and brings him food and books and tries his best to teach him about the world. As Bod grows up, he learns many secrets of the ghosts, but he eventually begins to see the attraction of life with the living on the other side of the fence surrounding the graveyard, including going to school and having friends his own age. The problem is, the man Jack is still looking for Bod, and only in the graveyard is Bod safe.

This is one of the best books I read in 2008, and one I’d recommend to anyone who will listen, from kids to teens to adults. It’s macabre, touching, quirky, and sad; it has depth and humor in equal measure; and there’s a quiet tone to the writing that suits its main character very well. Bod grows from a toddler to a teenager over the course of the story, and a lot of his frustrations are what you woud expect, despite his unusual upbringing: feeling penned in, feeling misunderstood, rebelling against his caretakers, wanting to explore past the safety of home. Bod’s life in the graveyard is never dull. The ghosts are all unique and interesting and sometimes quite funny, and Silas makes for a stern but caring protector (and one who is quite dangerous when he chooses to be). Bod gets in to plenty of trouble in his explorations and comes across many dangerous areas (such as an underground world full of ghouls, accessible by a gate hidden in a grave; and the mysterious Sleer, lying in wait in the barrow beneath a hill), all of which prepare him for his inevitable confrontation with Every Man Jack.

And if you’d like to hear Neil Gaiman’s most excellent reading of his novel, check out Gaiman’s official site, where he has video of himself reading each chapter from his nine-city book tour. I don’t know how long the videos will be up, so go watch as soon as you can!

*Want to see your own book reviews published on this blog? Want to win prizes for writing book reviews? Go here to see how!

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