Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman
Harper Collins
Reviewed by Heather F.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.

He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy-an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.

But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family. . . .

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, the graveyard book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.

What a delight this book was. It's weird to say that about a book where the most of the main characters are dead and populate an ancient, practically abandoned, graveyard, but it was. Just so you know, this will definitely be in my top ten this year and I am so glad I went with my instincts and went ahead and bought it!

Frequent Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean again contributes illustrations, which from the very first page lend this tale a shivery, deliciously creepy feel. Are they not gorgeous? The opening illustration, of a bloodthirsty knife, in a bloodthirsty hand, tells you right away you are in for a tremendous story.

Bod, for reasons I will definitely not reveal here, is being hunted. His entire family is being hunted and Bod is the only one to get away. A curious and extremely precocious toddler, Bod escapes to the nearby graveyard as his family is being murdered. As the murderer pursues him, the ghosts of the graveyard come together to protect the boy, with Mr. and Mrs. Owens stepping in to be his parents (at the behest of Bod's recently murdered mother) and Silas, a being neither living or dead, as his guardian. By bequeathing him Freedom of the Graveyard, the protect him from his wouldbe murderer, and give him other unexpected talents.

Bod comes of age inside the graveyard, learning tricks of the trade as it were (basically, how to be a ghost) from his many neighbors and friends. He goes on many adventures, with the living and the dead (and slightly in between). He makes friends. He looses them. He learns poetry. He learns history. He learns about witches. In some ways, this book is rather like a book of short stories, with one story arc that ties them all together. It makes for quick, enjoyable reading.

It makes it hard to put the bloody book down!

It all comes to a head a few years later with a marvelous ending that I dare not spoil here. You will just have to read it.

Bod is an endearing little guy. From diapers, through first loves, first heartbreaks and first haunts, to starting out on his own, you can't help but come to care for this character. He is one of those one-of-a-kind characters, the kind that never really leave you. His story is haunting, it is familiar, it is a must read. For me he takes up a spot with Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Coraline, and other such unforgettable characters.

And now I must read The Jungle Book, which is apparently somewhat of a model for the story. Then I plan on listening to the audio. Can't think of anything better than having Neil Gaiman read this to me.

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