Saturday, November 7, 2009

Book review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Are y’all sick of my Gaiman obsession yet? Well, that’s just too bad because I am in no way tired of him yet and dude’s prolific. I just finished one of his most recent YA novels, The Graveyard Book (published in 2008), and it’s wonderful.

The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens, commonly referred to as “Bod,” a boy who was raised from babyhood by an ancient graveyard when his parents and older sister were murdered. As the evil man Jack was dispatching his family, the one-year-old baby toddled out of his house and into the graveyard, where the resident ghosts, spirits and revenants took him in as one of their own. With Mr. and Mrs. Owens (dead “for a few hundred years now”) as his erstwhile parents and Silas, a vampire, for his guardian, Bod grows up healthy and happy – so long as he doesn’t leave the protection of the graveyard. For outside, in the human world, the man Jack still lurks.

There are eight chapters to The Graveyard Book, each of them detailing a specific adventure in Bod’s life as he grows from toddler to teenager. He makes a new human friend; he explores a haunted barrow; he balks at his lessons and encounters ghouls; he tries to fulfill a long dead witch’s last request; he attends human school when the graveyard ghosts can no longer teach him. And when he learns what happened to his first family, he wishes for revenge.

Gaiman acknowledges that this book owes a debt to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the story of an orphan, raised by a nonhuman family, who makes his way back to the human world. It’s been decades since I’ve read these volumes and now I think I’d like to revisit them. But Gaiman puts his own unmistakable touch on the old story, adding his dark, intelligent humor and imagination, elements of suspense, magic and the macabre, bits from folklore and fairy tales, making The Graveyard Book a story that is very much his own. I wish there had been more than eight chapters so we could have had more than eight glimpses into Bod’s childhood.

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