Jun 29, 2009

[Books] The Graveyard Book (2008)

The Graveyard BookIt's hard to determine what really counts as a "children's" book these days. In a post Harry Potter universe, the lines have blurred between the book classes with more and more young adult authors catering to adults or perhaps this is just their way of acknowledging the children are a lot smarter than we think they are and deserve more mature reading. This is not to say writers shouldn't filter the content that trickles down to the youth of today - it's more like maintaining those safeguards while respecting their intelligence.

Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman has always respected this - his attempts at fiction aimed at younger audiences tends to lean on the disturbing side by the standards of more traditional fiction. Just take for example the tale of Coraline, a young girl who finds herself trapped in an alternate version of her world where her parents have buttons for eyes is not something you'd usually offer a young person to read.

This is part of the appeal of Gaiman, I suppose - his willingness to test those limits and treat children as the young adults they really are has certainly made him a lot "cooler" to his readers and thus increased his accessibility and his fame. His latest book still plays to such strengths and very, very well.

The Graveyard Book follows the story of a young boy named Nobody Owens who is raised by the ghosts in the graveyard. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, the loose collection of chapters act as individual stories from the boy's life as he grows up and eventually has to come to terms with how he came to life in the graveyard and what happened to his original family.

Neil Gaiman Graveyard Book 20081003_7151Image by kwc via Flickr

The wording of the book is deceptively simple - it certainly feels like a book meant for children given the grammar level, but in no ways is this a simple book. In fact, it's a lot deeper than it initially appears and it takes a significant degree of imagination on the reader's part to fill in the gaps about certain characters or events. Take for example Silas, Bod's appointed guardian. It's clear that he's a member of the undead, but what precisely he is based on the current lore is obscured in shadow. Is he a vampire? Some other kind of ghoul? While it's not important to the central theme to ponder what he really is, it still makes for an interesting side venture to speculate and look for more clues here and there throughout the book.

The story progresses from the chapters living a few years apart from one another and eventually comes together in a final fulfillment of things. The story has to come to a head after all and Nobody must learn the full truth about his parents and the consequences of such knowledge. He needs to learn to master the worlds of the living and the dead and eventually determine where he is to go - how he is to live his life as an individual. It's this progression and evolution of the character that really gives this book strength and is probably why it was found worthy of the Newbery Award - and it truly deserved it.

Regardless of age, The Graveyard Book is yet another Gaiman masterpiece that deserves to be read completely. It has a lot of themes and ideas that may become clearer after your first 2-3 readings of the book and the experience just gets better over time. You can also catch videos of Neil Gaiman reading the entire book at the Mouse Circus, the website dedicated to his young adult fiction.

The Graveyard Book gets 4 tombstones out of a possible 5.




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