Monday, August 17, 2009

A jolly good time at the graveyard

Who can turn a brutal subject matter of family murder into an opening scene for a young adult novel? Who can masterfully transform a bleak graveyard into a magical abode of a precocious boy? Neil Gaiman, that's who. Once again, our modern day myth-maker has written another novel that appeals across generations of readers. And like other Gaiman novels we've read and grown to love, The Graveyard Book has all his narrative trademark.

The Graveyard Book begins with a murder of a man, his wife, and their daughter by a character named Jack. Fortunately, their youngest child, a toddler, has decided to explore the graveyard nearby, allowing him to escape the murderous intentions of Jack. The ghosts of the graveyard then decide to raise the little boy as their own and protect him from Jack. They name him Nobody "Bod" Owens and give him the Freedom of the Graveyard. Silas, a character in the novel who is most likely a vampire, becomes the boy's guardian, bringing him food, clothes, and basically just talking to Bod about the world outside the graveyard.

Except for the first chapter of the novel, the first few chapters of The Graveyard Book are episodic. You read about Bod and his dealings with the graveyard's inhabitats, including the resident witch, the ancient Roman ghost, and Ms. Lupescu, Silas's occasional replacement and erstwhile werewolf/shapeshifter. We also meet Scarlett, a girl who's almost the same age as Bod, as she strikes a friendship with Bod. Their adventures as make us recall all those carefree times in our childhood when we whiled away the time just exploring every nook and cranny of our childhood haunts.

The Graveyard Book is an homage to our childhood, which has always been a very magical stage. Gaiman even manages to incorporate important values that should be imbibed as children. We see how Bod's adoptive ghost parents, the Owenses, raises him to become respectful despite his unconventional home environment. Also, Gaiman, without being preachy, effortlessly weaves scenarios into the novel that show why children need to go to school. The Graveyard Book thus spoke to the educator in me.

The book has won several literary prizes such as the Hugo and the Newberry. The awards heaped on it are richly deserved. The Graveyard Book is one very satisfying read, with an ending that is so bittersweet that you can't help but feel for Bod. Of course, I won't give anything as to the fate of Bod in the end. There's also something for everyone in it -- horror, fantasy, history, coming-of-age, and, of course, comedy.

Read this book if:
  1. You miss your childhood and all the magical things it brings.
  2. You think graveyards are wonderful play areas.
  3. You believe in ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and mummies.

12 comments:

sumthinblue said...

Loved this one too!

My review of the book is posted here:
http://sumthinblue.com/2009-newbery-
medal-the-graveyard-book-by-neil-gaiman/

Michael said...

"The Graveyard Book" is one that I will be reading soon; I've had it on my list for a little while now.

Also, Neil Gaiman is on Twitter - his userid is NeilHimself, in case you don't already have him added.

stacybuckeye said...

I've been meaning to read Gaiman, but he keeps slipping through the cracks! I have made a note that I should read American Gods first. What do you think?

Peter S. said...

@Blooey: Thanks for sharing the link!

@Michael: I think you'll really like this one. Thanks for the heads up on Gaiman.

@Stacy: I think you should start with his young adult novels first. American Gods is too heavy to start with. Or, why not sample the work his really known for -- the Sandman graphic novels.

Ryan G said...

This is one of his books I have not got around to yet and now I will have to go pick it up. Thanks for the review.

bookjourney said...

This is going to have to go on my TBR.... I keep hearing (and seeing) good things about it,

mental wayfarer said...

I've read, and absolutely loved, the book! The part about why children need to go to school stuck with me, too, though it has nothing to do with my being a mom. I think i'm just plain geeky. You said you're an educator? Do you teach?

Patrick said...

I've been wanting to read this since I saw the great reviews. The only Gaiman book I've read so far is Stardust. Before Graveyard was released, I've been eyeing Anansi Boys. Have you read that one?

Stepford Mum said...

I love love love Neil Gaiman! For those who want to start reading him, Neverwhere (my favourite) and Stardust are great. Anansi Gods features characters previously introduced in the wonderful American Gods. His children's stories are fabulous too :)

Peter S. said...

@Ryan: You're very much welcome. This is an easy read, so I think it will appeal to most people, even for first-time readers of Gaiman.

@Bookjourney: Hi Sheila! All the good things you keep hearing about The Graveyard Book are merited.

@Mental wayfarer: Hi Ajie! I taught for 2 years. And then I worked for a publishing house that produced educational materials.

@Patrick: I've listened to the unabridged audiobook of Anansi Boys. It's fun!

@Stepford Mum: Hi Lya! Gaiman's books are indeed fabulous!

Pizza said...

I really want to read this book. I've seen other reviews of it too. Great review.

Peter S. said...

Hi Pizza! Thanks for dropping by!