Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon

In his acknowledgments, Gaimon mentions owing a huge debt to The Jungle Book by Kipling, which certainly resonates throughout The Graveyard Book – a boy in great danger is rescued and then adopted and brought up by an unlikely assortment of foster parents, all of whom impart what wisdom they can to him. Meanwhile, menace lurks just outside his small and cozy domain.

After a cold-hearted killer murders his whole family, a tiny toddler accidentally eludes his knife by crawling out the door and into an old gated graveyard, where he is rescued from his killer by its ghostly inhabitants, especially Mr. and Mrs. Owens and his guardian Silas. They name him Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, and keep him safe by raising him within the confines of the graveyard, which has its own rules and secrets. But Bod’s killer Jack is still out there and still wants him dead, as do Jack’s powerful employers. Because growing up will mean leaving the graveyard, Bod will have to either hide from his would-be killer – or face him.

I never would have thought an old, cold graveyard could be cozy, and the thought of a small boy sleeping on a tomb (and wrapped only in a gray winding sheet) would have given me chills before I read this book. Strangely, I’m somewhat envious of young Bod’s ability to see a graveyard not as a spooky place but as home, filled with dead denizens who range from irritable to warm-hearted to utterly fascinating. He learns handy skills (Fading and Fear, for instance), and explores the creepy secrets of a barrow and a ghouls’ gate.

Silas, a mysterious figure who is neither dead nor alive (one suspects him of being a vampire or similar undead creature) and who is often busy on urgent errands, is a most compelling character. Bod loves and admires him deeply, but would never hug him – one doesn’t hug Silas. He dispenses knowledge, advice, books, food and more, but rarely shows emotion. It doesn’t matter, because his huge responsibility for the boy translates to what in another creature would be affection or even love.

This is a compelling read, with the homey details of life in the graveyard just as fascinating as the thrilling dangerous bits. My favorite chapter is one that could be a short story unto itself – “Danse Macabre,” in which the dead and living come together in a joyous and outrageous evening of dancing. It is fey and odd and wonderful.

Fey and odd and wonderful – those are fine words to describe the entire book, and so I’ll leave it at that.

Gr. 4 - 8

1 comment:

  1. It's coming on Christmas
    They're cutting down trees
    They're putting up reindeer
    And singing songs of joy and peace
    Oh I wish I had a river I could skate - Joni Mitchell
    Happy Anniversary!
    Well, that just what I need - a good night story! ( even if it is a review)
    In your 'kerchief with sugarplum visions dancing in your head
    may the promises of the eastern wind blow glad tidings your way.