Archive for March 27th, 2009


What I’m Reading: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookI am, without apology, a big fan of the work of writer Neil Gaiman. His Sandman series is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the several of his books I’ve read have always entertained me to the fullest. Having just finished his latest novel for young readers, The Graveyard Book, I can proclaim his track record unbroken.

This book, which was the winner of last year’s Newbery Award for outstanding children’s literature, opens up with a murder. Several of them, in fact, as a man named Jack kills three people in the dead of night. The fourth member of the family, an infant, escapes and is spirited away to a nearby graveyard, where he is adopted by a pair of friendly ghosts. As the boy, named Nobody Owens, grows up, the book follows his adventures — both in and out of the graveyard — until the young man he has become faces an inevitable confrontation with his parents’ killer.

Gaiman is at his best when he’s pulling out the really bizarre, out-there concepts, and that’s what this book gives us. Nobody (“Bod” for short) grows up raised by a pair of ghosts, living in a graveyard full of intriguing characters that are just as dead as Bod’s parents. Teachers, children who stay the same age as Bod grows up, the mother who died in childbirth that still fusses her grandson buried in the same cemetery, and the teenage witch who watches as Bod evolves past her all help make this book a fantastic piece of work. Silas, Bod’s guardian, is a particular enigma. He’s not a ghost, but nor is he alive. He, like Bod, has been given the “freedom of the graveyard.” His attempts to teach Bod and protect him often lead to different adventures than those he was attempting to avert.

The book is fairly episodic in nature, telling short stories about Bod at different points of his life, beginning at his infancy and leading to his teen years. Some of the stories pay off at the end, but others are plot threads that simply end as Bod grows up, much like real life when you get right down to it. As we go through the stories, though, we see hints and pieces of a larger mythology that Gaiman has crafted for this universe. A great number of ideas are left dangling, but it seems clear that the writer intends to return to them later.

This is without a doubt one of the strongest young readers’ novels I’ve come across in years. It’s fully deserving of the accolades it has received, and has me intently awaiting whatever comes next.

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