Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Graveyard Book

Sadly, this is the last of the books I got for Christmas and/or birthday this year. I put off reading it as long as I could so I would savor it when the time came!  Alas, I could wait no longer....The Graveyard Book (2008) is Neil Gaiman's first full-length children's book since Coraline (2002). It has received wide acclaim and garnered the 2009 Hugo and Newbery Awards, as well as a Locus Award for best young adult novel.

Apparently, the story is modeled after and contains many similarities to The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (even the name The Graveyard Book is an homage).  I must confess that I have never read The Jungle Book, so I am unable to comment on any comparison between the two works.  I should probably add it to my reading list!

The novel is laid out as a series of what are essentially short stories that chronicle the life of Nobody Owens.  Bod (for short) comes to live in a graveyard as a baby after his family is murdered in the opening pages of the novel by a mysterious man in black.  He is raised by the ghosts of the graveyard and soon thinks of the graveyard as nothing other than home.  Gaiman's prose does a terrific job of making the dark, haunted setting of a graveyard feel like a familiar, comfortable place to the reader (though trouble and magic are never far away).

Over the course of the book, Bod grows from boy into young adulthood, and we see him begin to consider his mysterious past and ponder what the future might hold for him.  In due time, it becomes clear that the man who murdered his family is still about and looking to finish the job he started so many years ago.  An ill-advised venture into the world outside the graveyard forces Bod to confront this past head on.

I was talking with a friend about the need to add a half-step in my hamster scoring system.  This book is a perfect example--I would give The Graveyard Book [4.5 hamsters] if my current system allowed it.  It was a fabulously written, entertaining book that fulfills its intended purpose (a young adult novel) exceedingly well.  I leave off the last half point only because I think it could have made a spectacular "adult" novel with more depth of plot.  I would really enjoy reading more about Bod--where does he settle?  What becomes of him?  On the other hand, perhaps that would just spoil the magic of the bittersweet ending?

The Graveyard Book is a great story with wonderful writing.  A must read for fans of children's literature or Gaiman's other works!

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