It takes a graveyard to raise a child. And, it's a very unusual boy, and an interesting graveyard in Neil Gaiman's Newbery award-winning novel, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman combines wonderful storytelling and suspense, with remarkable characters. It's no wonder this deserving story won this year's Newbery.
I'm sure there are some readers who will object to the opening scene, when a man named Jack murdered most of a family, killing them with a knife, and follows a baby to a cemetery, planning to kill that lone survivor. However, it's a powerful opening, and Gaiman's intended audience will be immediately drawn in. And, Gaiman alleviates the tension with a lighter scene, when the ghosts in the graveyard argue over whether or not they can take in a baby. It takes Silas, a mysterious figure, neither living nor dead, and the Lady on the Grey Horse, to convince the ghosts to adopt him. Silas agrees to act as guardian for the child they name Nobody Owens, Bod for short.
Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard, a freedom that protects him within the grounds. The ghosts, along with Silas and a mysterious assistant, educate him, provide him with books, and warn him that he's unsafe if he leaves the cemetery. But, as a boy grows from a year and a half to fifteen, it's natural for him to chafe under those restraints. Bod's learning experiences include a witch, ghouls, and fascinating adventures in and outside the graveyard. He tries to make friends, and, in doing so, calls unwanted attention to his existence.
Gaiman's novel is set in a graveyard, but it's a powerful story of life and death. Bod's story is a coming-of-age story, with humor, tragedy, loss and triumph. Now that it won the Newbery, The Graveyard Book will live as long as children read books. It deserves that honor.
Neil Gaiman's website is www.mousecircus.com
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. HarperCollins Publishers, ©2008. ISBN 9780060530921 (hardcover), 320p.
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