Neil Gaiman has become quite a well known author. With the recent movie Coraline, based on the book of the same name by Mr. Gaiman, he is fast becoming a household name. I’ve read a few of his previous efforts, including American Gods and his short story collection Smoke and Mirrors, both of which I greatly enjoyed. His newest book, a children’s book like Coraline, is The Graveyard Book. The Graveyard Book recently won the The John Newbery Medal for “the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” an honor which I think it richly deserved.
I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but I’m sure that there might be some spoilers in what follows. I would rather describe my general thoughts about the story. The story centers around the childhood of a young boy, Nobody Owens, as he grows up after a tragedy in his family. I imagine it won’t be much of a spoiler, since the title of the book essentially gives this point away, to say that Bod, as Nobody is nicknamed, grows up in a graveyard. I’ve read that Gaiman was inspired on this point by The Jungle Book, putting a young boy in a very odd environment in which to grow up. The plot revolves around Bod growing up and learning about the graveyard and the world around him, as well as the mystery surrounding the events that led him to the graveyard in the first place.
The story is fast paced, with several adventures as Bod discovers new corners of the graveyard. The reader essentially grows up with Bod, learning about both the world in which Bod lives as well as the greater world beyond the physical world in which most people live. We learn that Ghouls, Werewolves, and, while never explicitly stated, Vampires exist in this world. Bod has to learn to navigate both the everyday world as well as this supernatural world in order to survive.
There are three main aspects of the story that I particularly enjoyed. First, there is a diverse cast of characters and, while we don’t get to know most of them very well, they all add a lot of color to the universe of The Graveyard Book. Second, the plot is definitely suspenseful, and at the peak I definitely didn’t want to put it down. It is a real page turner. Finally, the book is meant for children. Maybe not the youngest, but maybe preteens or so. As such, I like that it doesn’t offer a world-view that is all roses. That is, bad things happen to Bod and, even when he does the right thing, it doesn’t always work out for him. And the ending is bitter-sweet. I’ll leave it at that.
I highly recommend this book. It is full of imagination and I expect that most kids would love the world that Gaiman has created. I am torn in hoping that Gaiman further explores the world of the graveyard, but, at the same time, it is maybe better to leave those corners too to the imagination.
There is a website dedicated to the book.