BY SEAN CLARK
This book has been chosen as a Great Read.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Harper Collins, 2008
Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store
I guess I chose a pretty good time to read and review this book, as it was just awarded the Hugo Award (to compliment the Newbery and Locus awards it already has won). As you might infer from the title, The Graveyard Book takes its inspiration from Kipling’s classic children’s’ novel, The Jungle Book. Nobody (Bod) Owens is an orphan raised in a graveyard by its otherworldly denizens. One of Gaiman’s greatest achievements with this novel is the cohesive and enthralling world he creates. He quickly establishes the different lore and hierarchies within the world of the dead, and never once was I confused about the rules of this fictional world that very early on felt as robust and immersive as that of Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Within this novel, Gaiman creates some of the most amusing characters I’ve come across in YA fiction. The deceased who live in the graveyard Bod calls home are quirky characters of many different varieties, from a stern Roman and a cheeky witch burned at the stake and buried in the potter’s field, to a flamboyant poet who chose to be buried with his unpublished poetry as a final dig to harsh critics who couldn’t care less. Bod himself is a great bildungsroman protagonist, curious and occasionally petulant, yet kind-hearted and slightly tortured.
At times the book’s adventures are slightly tangential to the main plot, such as the bumbling trek through the land of the ghouls (clearly inspired by Mowgli and the monkey kidnappers). This never detracts from things though, as it allows the reader’s knowledge of this world to expand in unexpected directions in the same manner it is happening to Bod. The central plot concerns The Man Jack, killer of Bod’s biological parents, as he searches for the child he failed to kill–I won’t, of course, reveal his motivations.
Beneath the adventuresome episodes and driving conflict is a wonderful coming of age story. Bod is a boy caught between two worlds. When he is home he is granted free reign of the graveyard, and his guardian, Silas, teaches him different skills used by the dead, such as “fading” from site, passing through walls, and “dream walking.” Yet Bod is not dead, so he can never fully connect with the dead he lives amongst. He ages when his childhood friends don’t, and he has a future, something the dead can never have.
However Bod doesn’t fit into the world of the living either. He is odd and forgettable to them (in part because he must fade regularly and try to keep under Jack’s radar). He makes only one friend, Scarlet Amber Perkins, who’s family moves away when her parents become worried of the time she spends playing in the graveyard. So Bod is a strange and solitary boy, left to explore two worlds (that of the living and that of the dead) in search of himself.
It’s really a great book; I enjoyed it so much I’ve plunged straightaway into Coraline, Gaiman’s first children’s book (and an excellent movie). Anyone who enjoys young adult fiction will love The Graveyard Book, and its great cast of characters, excellent plotting, pacing, suspense, and engrossing setting should appeal to a wide audience of readers even if they don’t regularly read YA books. Gaiman’s novel is deserving of all the critical recognition it is receiving, just as it is deserving of even more readers.