The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
British authors must have some kind of secret to writing scrappy orphan stories.
Not being opposed to books that start with a creepy man breaking into a house, murdering the family who lives there, and being thwarted by an infant and his ghost protectors...I thought this was a great book. The opening is certainly dark, but I can't imagine a coming-of-age-in-a-graveyard book opening with sunshine and happy little gnomes.
The creative concepts in this book really caught my attention. How would one raise a living child in a graveyard? If the ghosts can't leave, how do you get food? How do you educate the kid? How do you teach him to protect himself? How do you make friends? The answers Gaiman comes up with are soooo very interesting. Plus, it's all a very interesting take on the ultimate human question: What happens when you die?
Nobody Owens, Bod, is one of those characters that you want to cheer for. He works hard to do what's right, whether it's getting a headstone for the dead who long to be remembered or defending his fellow students from the classroom bullies. When he's told that he is kept in the graveyard for his own protection, Bod's reaction is to say that it's the man Jack, the man who killed his family, who should be protected - from Bod.
I love a can-do attitude.
The good news is life in the graveyard carries a story a long way. The only problem I had with the story was the reasoning - the 'why' - of the man Jack's assault on Bod's family was explained away in a sentence or two very close to the end of the book. The bad guys just seemed too simplistic, which was disappointing after so much mystery had been built around their 'society'. With the well-explained good guys balanced against the less-explained bad guys, the weight of the story shifted strangely, if that makes sense.
All in all, though, it's pretty darn good. I'd recommend it for middle school and up - and not because the opening is dark (which it is, no lie) but because there are a multitude of literary and historical references that I'm not sure younger readers would appreciate. There'd be a lot of blank stares unless there's an adult around to explain.
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