Friday, May 8, 2009

The Graveyard Book (book) by Neil Gaiman

One horrible night, a man named Jack kills nearly an entire family. The only one he misses is the youngest child, a baby really, who had gotten out of his crib and walked to a nearby graveyard. The ghosts there adopt him and protect him, with the help of the mysterious Silas. As the baby's original name is unknown, he is renamed Nobody Owens, Bod for short.

Years later, Bod is fairly happy in his graveyard home, but he's also hungry for knowledge and contact with living, breathing humans. Because he's only truly safe in the graveyard, Silas and the ghosts don't want him to leave, but Bod is a living boy and can't stay there forever. Both on his own and with Silas's help, Bod begins to make contact with and venture out into the world outside the graveyard, learning ways to protect himself as he goes along.

Can a boy raised among ghosts in a graveyard ever truly be part of the living world again? What will happen when Jack finds Bod again? And why did Jack kill Bod's family in the first place?

I haven't actually read very many Newbery Medal winners, and I didn't read this one because it won a Newbery Medal - I read it because Neil Gaiman wrote it. I've enjoyed his stuff for years, ever since I picked up The High Cost of Living (my first exposure to his Sandman world) and fell in love with Death.

Parts of this book felt so familiar I started to wonder if it hadn't been released before. Then I read that Gaiman had published a short story called "The Witch's Headstone," which later became part of this book. The feeling of deja vu makes more sense now.

Although I enjoyed this book and found the idea of a boy growing up in a graveyard to be fascinating, I think American Gods or Anansi Boys (neither of which could be considered children's books, so maybe this isn't fair) are better. I think it's just that I was left wanting more than what I got.

I would've liked to have seen more of Silas and Miss Lupescu. Although Gaiman doesn't say so, Silas is probably a vampire, and I should've figured Miss Lupescu out sooner than I did. Both characters interested me, but they're really only present in this book as support for Bod. They protect him and form part of his odd, yet loving community/family. I don't know if Gaiman has said anything about writing more books set in this same world - if he does, Silas might turn up again, but unfortunately Miss Lupescu probably won't. I was disappointed at how little attention her ending received, but I guess that brings me to one of the things I didn't quite like - Bod's way of reacting to certain things.

Bod doesn't really react to things the way one might usually expect a boy his age to react, which made it a little hard for me to think of him as a living, breathing human boy and not some sort of supernatural being. I suppose a lot of my issues about Bod could be explained by his unusual upbringing. Growing up with ghosts, he has a interesting perspective on death. The thought of his own death and of others' deaths doesn't really seem to bother him, because he knows what comes after death - of course, "life" as a ghost isn't really life at all, but I think the closest Bod comes to demonstrating that he knows this is his hunger to be part of the world outside the graveyard. It's possible that his upbringing was also why he couldn't seem to realize why Scarlett, his childhood friend, became so afraid of him.

As close as Bod is to the members of his ghostly community, instead of really mourning the coming loss of his ability to see them all and continue to live in the graveyard, Bod instead seems more excited about being able to go out into the world. While I understand his excitement, the low level of sadness seemed odd. In some ways, his confused and somewhat lowkey reaction made the ending feel especially tragic to me. It felt like the bonds he had with his family and community were being severed, and he was barely even able to notice it happening. Growing up and leaving childhood behind (which was really what Bod was doing) can be sad, but I think, in this particular case, I would've probably felt better if Bod had seemed a little more aware of what was going on.

Ok, a couple more random thoughts/comments, and then I'll wrap this up. One, Scarlett. I had thought, especially when Bod met Scarlett again, that Gaiman was planning on pairing those two up. Had Bod been more upset by the way things turned out with Scarlett, or had he been upset longer, I might've disliked the way Gaiman dealt with Scarlett more. As it is, I just find it interesting that things didn't go the way I expected them to. Two, Mo and Nick. I was a little uneasy when Bod started coming into his own with the various ghost-related powers, since his first major use of those powers was to scare Mo and Nick silly. True, those two were terrible bullies and needed someone to reign them in, but I wasn't always sure how far Bod was going to go with things.

Overall, this was a quick, interesting read. The Newbery Medal meant that one of my coworkers actually read (or, more accurately, listened to) the book - maybe she'll get hooked on Gaiman, too. Since I suggested several of Gaiman's other books as good potential additions to our popular fiction collection, it should be pretty easy for her to try more of his stuff.

Read-alikes:
  • Odd Thomas (book) by Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas is a small town fry cook who seems like a perfectly nice, normal guy. Only a few people know that Odd can see ghosts. Odd can also see creatures he calls bodachs, horrible creatures that seem to gather around anyone and any place that will soon have a link to pain and tragedy. When Odd notices the growing number of bodachs gathering around a stranger who has just come to town, he investigates and discovers things that lead him to believe that the stranger plans on killing lots of people. It's up to Odd to figure out how to stop him in time. Those who'd like another book with a somewhat odd main character who can see ghosts might want to try this. Keep in mind, however, that this was written for an older audience than The Graveyard Book. Although I can't recall much happening in Odd Thomas that was worse than anything in The Graveyard Book, the greater amount of suspense in Koontz's book does make this a tenser read.
  • Nation (book) by Terry Pratchett - Ermintrude (who renames herself "Daphne") is on the ship the Sweet Judy, on her way to joining her father. Mau has survived his time on the Boys' Island and in on his way back to his family, to celebrate becoming a man. Both of them are left alone, their lives horribly disrupted, when a giant wave destroys the Sweet Judy and many of the small islands in the area. As they interact with one another, their worldviews are disrupted. Together with other survivors, they gradually form a new community and try to figure out how live again. At times, this book is terribly sad and brutal, but, like The Graveyard Book, it also has its humorous moments. Those who'd like another "coming of age" story by an author with a somewhat similar writing style might want to try this.
  • A Dirty Job (book) by Christopher Moore - Charlie Asher is very much the beta male type, an average guy with an average life who doesn't really want more. Unfortunately, his wife doesn't survive the birth of their first child, and Charlie, who even under better circumstances is a bit neurotic, is left to raise their daughter. Although he gets help from friends and family, how's he supposed to deal with everything when he discovers his daughter's talent for causing things to die, hears menacing whispers in the streets, and finds out he has to locate people who are dead or about to die and collect their soul vessels? Those who'd like another book that mixes seriousness with humor and deals (in a different way than The Graveyard Book) with death and what comes after might want to try this. Like Odd Thomas, this was written for adults, not children or teens, so keep that in mind.

1 comment:

  1. Gee, I wonder which co-worker of which you speak. :) I did read "American Gods" but I really didn't like it. I found a copy of "Anansi Boys" at my local library Friends book sale and picked it up, but who knows when and if I'll get around to it. Such a huge TBR pile, and this isn't my favorite genre.

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