Friday, December 4, 2015

The Graveyard Book Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Standalone
Pages: 336

Buy on Amazon!


Leave No Path Untaken

Neil Gaiman has conquered a myriad of different writing forms – comics, graphic novels, short stories, screenwriting, and adult novels for example. With The Graveyard Book he added children’s literature to that list. He wrote such a well liked children’s novel that most of the major book awards he was eligible for heaped piles of awards and gold on him. To be perfectly honest, it was rightfully deserved.

The Graveyard Book isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close.  It has a sentimental story, an unorthodox setting (for a children’s book), well written prose, and a great main character. Children will love this book, but I would bet adults will love it even more.

A one year old boy wanders into a graveyard while a man named Jack murders his entire family. The ghostly inhabitants of the graveyard agree to protect the child from Jack and raise him until he can fend for himself.  The boy, whom gets named Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, grows up with the dead. As Bod gets older he must prepare to learn how to live in the real world outside the graveyard, but he also has to beware of Jack who’s still looking to kill him.

The biggest weakness in The Graveyard Book is it’s villain Jack and the group of people he works with. This is largely due to Gaiman not developing these characters. Jack’s reason for hunting down Bod’s family and Bod himself feels more like a cheap excuse.  The lack development of the main antagonists results in a climactic battle between Bod and Jack that’s hard to get emotionally invested in.

Normally a weak major villain is a huge negative for a story, especially a children’s styled fantasy. This would irritate me to no end with any other author, but Gaiman does everything else so well in this book, I find myself mostly forgiving, and even forgetting, the problems with the villains’ development. It’s a true testament to Gaiman’s ability as a writer that he can make you forget that there are antagonists.

The graveyard that Nobody grows up in is a bleak setting for a children’s book, but Gaiman never gets to morose with all the talking ghosts. If you have a child, this book will likely encourage them to befriend ghosts rather than fear them. Bod goes on a number of mini-adventures that are reminiscent of the games young children make up.  The adventures feature traditional mythical spooky characters like ghouls and witches, but there are newly created characters like the Sleer – which is a talking creature that lives in a hole and is waiting for a master to take him. Bod’s education on life by the diseased is an oxymoron, but it eventually teaches him that choices in life are essential to living. Bod’s journey is inspirational in a real subtle way; it kind of sneaks up on you, but before the book’s end the reader should have a more fulfilling attitude about living.

The supporting cast of characters have a limited amount of time in the story, but they make the most of their time.  Eccentric characters like the unjustly executed witch Elizabeth Hempstock and two bullies named Mo and Nick bring the graveyard world into conflict with the real world, and these were the adventures that had the best character and thematic development … along with being the most fun to read. I believe Gaiman got me to hate Mo and Nick more than he got me to hate Jack, while Elizabeth Hempstock allowed me to speculate about what a 17th century’s version of a hippie would act like.

Scarlett was another supporting character who had a big impact on the story.  She is the first person to discover Bod is living in the graveyard, and she becomes a figure of friendship with the potential for more serious relationship as he grows older.  I really appreciated how Gaiman chose to conclude Scarlett and Bod’s relationship.  Other memorable characters include Bod’s strict teacher Miss Lupescu, his adoptive parents the Owens’, and his mentor Silas whom all contribute to his growth as a person, and are essential to keeping the story on track.

Above all I was really impressed with Gaiman’s prose, which when combined with Bod’s nostalgic childhood adventures created a genuinely emotional reading experience. His little philosophical anecdotes about living life are inspiring, even if they are simple.  I listed two of my favorites:
“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The Graveyard Book is an excellent book for children, it’s an even better book for adults. I believe the reminiscences of childhood will have a bigger impact on those who can’t go back to being children on a full time basis. The hype around this book and Neil Gaiman is well deserved, he is one of the best writers of fiction writing right now. The Graveyard Book ranks as one of my favorite stories by the author, and one of my all time favorite children’s books.

Score: 9.4

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