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Monday, November 24, 2008

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Read Fábio Fernandes’ Review HERE

October is always a great month in publishing for books that center around ghosts, vampires and spooky characters. Neil Gaiman'sThe Graveyard Book” is a great addition to this tradition, but while the title may imply a scary horror novel, “The Graveyard Book” is anything but. Instead, the book is a tale of growing up, unusual friends, and a little mystery all rolled into one…

A boy one and a half years old finds his way to a cemetery after his family is brutally murdered one night. When his mother appears to the ghosts of that particular graveyard and pleads to them to help protect and raise her son, the Owens—a couple that has long been buried in that particular cemetery—take it upon themselves to raise the boy as their own. As long as the child stays within the graveyard he will be granted the “protection of the graveyard” and is safe from all those that may wish him harm. With the help of others within the graveyard, Nobody Owens learns not only the essentials of the living world, but also various aspects of the afterlife, such as fading and dream-walking, all of which may come in handy.

Many adventures follow Nobody in the graveyard as he grows up including encounters with witches, ghouls, and the horrifying Sleer. There is also trouble from beyond the graveyard and the world of the living such as an assassin and the job he has to finish…

The Graveyard Book” possesses many strong features that, combined together, make the book an absolute joy to read. First, Gaiman does an excellent job of building all of his characters starting with Nobody Owens who we grow up with throughout the book. Even though every single detail of Nobody’s life isn't relayed to the reader—there are gaps between adventures and chapters so that we see him at the age of five, eight, ten and so forth—readers will still get the feeling that they are growing up with Nobody so by the end of the book, there is this huge bond between the reader and Nobody Owens.

Another appealing aspect of Nobody is that he actually makes mistakes. He’s not perfect, but he’s not always causing trouble either, so there is this perfect mix between the two. So instead of coming across as annoying or pestering, readers can understand and sympathize with Nobody.

Nobody Owens isn't the only character who is portrayed wonderfully. There is also Silas—a mysterious man capable of walking between the worlds of the living and the dead and serves as Nobody's guardian—who is a perfect addition to the story. There is just an air of mystery to Silas that adds to the story itself, but the reader also gets to feel the emotions that Silas deals with. In addition to Silas, every character in the book—from the witch and the Owens to the school teachers, poets, doctors and every resident in the graveyard—possesses their own unique personality and has a little bit of their history shared with the reader. A small detail that I personally enjoyed was the way Gaiman provided a little fact (as seen upon the headstone) about every new graveyard resident that we came into contact with. Although this little touch could be easily overlooked, I felt that this was a great addition to the book.

Along with the impressive characterization, there was the action-packed plot which did seem a bit fast-paced with all of the adventures that Nobody was encountering, but it all ties in nicely. In fact, by the 7th and 8th chapters, readers will discover that everything Nobody went through has a purpose and fits together. Besides growing up in a graveyard and the many adventures, there is also the interaction between Nobody and the world of the living. So just when you start to wonder how this little boy is going to last his whole life without ever encountering real people, Gaiman introduces a subplot with school and friends. Not surprisingly, Nobody acts the way you would expect a child who has had very little human interaction to act, and the whole experience is very innocent and touching.

There was one weakness with the plot—the whole murder of the family. Throughout the book it is understood that if Nobody goes out into the real world he will encounter danger, but it's very unclear what that danger is and why. The telling of his family’s murder in the first chapter was very swift and a little puzzling. It really doesn't come up again until Chapter 5, and even then it's very vague as to why there is this danger. When the story was concluded, I was still a little unclear as to what really happened regarding Nobody’s family and why he was still in danger. The whole mystery and vagueness of the danger surrounding Nobody may have made the book more suspenseful, and without that danger there really wouldn't be much of a story or reasoning behind the boy living in a graveyard, but it just seemed that the explanation was really quick and hard to follow.

Finally, at a little over 300 pages that cover eight chapters and a small interlude, “The Graveyard Book’s” pacing flows along very nicely. Each chapter by itself could almost serve as a standalone short story as they cover an adventure or small section of Bod's life which range from when he was five years old and meets his first real life friend, to going to school and having to deal with the other children…

There is a lot of talk from readers hoping that there will be another book about Nobody Owens, and while I can see how this could happen and would welcome another one, I think “The Graveyard Book” works just great as a standalone novel and that it ends in the right way. After all, there should be some mystery and imagination left to the readers :)

In the end, this attempt by Neil Gaiman in the world of Young Adult fiction is definitely a success. From page twenty I was utterly captivated by “The Graveyard Book” and had trouble putting it down. Even though the suggested reading level is for Grades 5 and up, I really believe that any adult and child would love this book and I find myself recommending “The Graveyard Book” to everyone. Definitely a title that shouldn’t be missed…

NOTE: For those that love audio books, I took the opportunity to listen to “The Graveyard Book
read by Neil Gaiman himself. Gaiman is a masterful storyteller and you can just feel the passion that he has for the story that he wrote and the joy that it brings him of telling it to others. It just makes the book that much more captivating. So anyone that has the time to both read the book and listen to the audio version, or just listen to the book read by Gaiman, should...


Anonymous said...

sounds great.currently reading it.looks like a good read. thanks for the good review

Devyn Paul said...

Ah, this is one of my favorite Gaiman books! I think my favorite thing was the allusion to the Jungle Book. Over all, very much a favorite and, as far as audio books go, Neil's narration is perfect.


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