Thursday, October 7, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Medal for his unusual novel, The Graveyard Book.   I read it recently (am I the last person on earth to do so?) based on a recommendation from my older son.  Though the book is officially targeted toward middle-grade readers, I think it is equally enjoyable for teens (my son was 15 when he read it)…and, of course, adults!

The book begins with a rather gruesome double murder by a sinister man named Jack.  The two victims happen to be the parents of a little boy toddler, who manages to slip out of the house unnoticed while Jack is busy with his parents.  The baby walks up the hill to a nearby cemetery and slips between the bars bypassing the locked gates.

From there, things get a little strange.  When implored by the brand-new ghosts of the boy’s parents, a married couple in the cemetery, dead for hundreds of years, decides to adopt the little boy to keep him safe.  For reasons that aren’t immediately clear, Jack still wants to kill the boy, and the only place he is safe is within the confines of the cemetery, explains Silas, a mysterious character who is neither alive nor dead and stays in the cemetery’s ancient chapel.  Here, he addresses the varied inhabitants of the graveyard, representing a wide range of time periods:

“…For good or for evil – and I firmly believe that it is for good – Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection.  It is going to take more than a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child.  It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”

And that should give you some hint of the wonderful sense of humor in this odd book that is both sweet and spooky, filled with supernatural adventures and tender coming-of-age moments.  The graveyard inhabitants name the boy Nobody – Nobody Owens, Bod for short – and he grows up there, among all the ghosts.  Silas brings him food and books from the real world outside their gates, he is tutored in various subjects by cemetery residents who were teachers in a former life, and he generally has a very happy childhood.

It’s not all sweetness, though, as the likable Bod discovers some of the darker secrets of the dead and encounters evil through some scary supernatural experiences (plus, Jack is still out there looking for him).  As he gets older, he occasionally meets some real people and becomes more curious about what is outside the gates.  The whole book is a wonderfully odd, witty mix of magic, adventure, and growing up.  It’s all thoroughly delightful.

307 pages, HarperCollins Children’s Books

Younger kids will enjoy Gaiman’s enchanting Norse folk tale, Odd and the Frost Giants, with his trademark wit and whimsy but less fright.

Read more about Neil Gaiman and his books at his website


Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Not only have I not yet read THE GRAVEYARD BOOK ... (true confession time) ... I haven't yet read CORALINE!

I know, I know! My older kids have told me I must read Neil Gaiman.

Your "The whole book is a wonderfully odd, witty mix of magic, adventure, and growing up. It’s all thoroughly delightful." is a fantastic shelf-talker!

Sue Jackson said...

Thanks, Dawn! Yes, you must read it.

Andrea said...

I loved this book. Nice review!

Melissa said...

I just recently listened to this book and loved it. Gaiman narrates it and he is the exception to the author being a bad narrator role - he's great a narrating. I'm glad you enjoyed it (and I think your review is better than mine was).