Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Great Young Adult Fiction is really just great fiction!

As a kid I used to play pretend a lot.  I mean a lot.  It was one of my favorite games. What if I were a movie star, a nurse, a spy?  What if I lived in Africa or Ireland?  These what if questions were the fuel for my play time.  I made my little sister join in all the time and be my side kick for these imaginary adventures.  To be honest in these stressful times of troubled economy, war and family ups and downs I find myself playing the game again.  What if I won a million dollars? What if the world really got along?  What if I were single?  What if I lived in Africa or Ireland?  I am pretty good at coming up with some fun and unusual imaginings and I have even written some of them down.  I have nothing on Neil G aiman.
You may have heard of Mr. Gaiman or at least heard of his work.  He wrote "Coraline."  I told you this guy had crazy imagination skills. I haven't read Coraline but I saw the movie and was swept away by this little girl's adventure. Isn't that a popular pretend game?  What if I had different parents?  Coraline's certainly turned out differently than she expected, eh?

Besides great juvenile fiction Mr. Gaiman is also well respected for his DC comic book series "Sandman."

So now I come to the first book I have ever read by this author, "The Graveyard Book."  I can tell you now I will be picking up anything I find by him from now on.
The "Graveyard Book"  takes place in the obvious place... a graveyard.  It is a story about a baby who toddles away in the night while something horrible happens to his family.  He toddles up the hill and into a very old graveyard where he encounters the ghosts that live there.  He doesn't know he has lost his family just as he doesn't know his rescuers are specters from times gone by nor does he realize he is still in danger from the evil assassin who ended the lives of his parents and sibling.

Mrs. Owens, a matronly ghost from. I'm guessing here, the 1700's, steps up to raise this poor orphaned baby.  Mr. Owens, her more pragmatic ghostly husband reminds her she is a ghost and therefore cannot provide food or clothing for the mite. The boy should go to an orphanage like a proper orphan should.  Enters Silas.  He is a mysterious man who lives in the night and has been granted the freedom of the graveyard.  He  is able to interact with his spirit hosts.  He tells them the assassin is still hunting the child and will stop at nothing to accomplish his ghoulish goal.  The boy needs protection and suggests they give the boy the same gift of the graveyard and allow Mrs. Owen, who had no children in life, the opportunity to raise the child.  He offers his corporeal abilities to provide food and other necessities to be his official guardian.  The ghosts take a vote and it is agreed the baby will live with them and be given the freedom of the graveyard and the Owens' will be his new parents.  They name him Nobody Owens.  You will need to read the story to find out why. 
So begins the life and times of Nobody Owens in the graveyard.  He learns his alphabet and how to read by tombstone.  He can make himself nearly invisible.  His friends and mentors are made up of teachers, millers, and even a roman soldier.  He is happy in the graveyard.
As the years go by he is told the story of how he came to them and he is aware danger is still stalking him.  Silas brings him books from the outside world and even brings him a very special nanny, Miss Lupescu , who gives him lessons on shouting help in every possible language in the universe.  It comes in very handy when a bunch of Ghouls take him off to Gulheim to become one of them.
The graveyard has been closed for nearly a century as a place for burials and instead has been declared a nature preserve and a park is built next to it.  A little girl wanders into the graveyard and becomes friends with Bod.  They become fast friends and everytime her mom brings her to the park she wanders off to the graveyard to find Bod.  Their last adventure ends up with Scarlett in a tomb and her parents frantic when they find her.
Time goes on and Bod attends school and you can imagine what trials would await a graveyard boy named Bod in a schoolyard full of regular kids. 
The Graveyard Book is chocked full of wonderful characters. 
Mr. and Mrs. Owens, course, who love Bod like he was there own.
Silas is a mysterious creature who isn't really human.
Ms. Lupescu, her name gives her away.
Liza, the witch.  She is buried in unhallowed ground but is a good girl nonetheless.
Nehemiah Trot who was a poet who got revenge only on himself.
Caius Pompeius is a roman soldier who has been in the graveyard longer than almost anything.
Scarlett Amber Perkins who discovers Bod wasn't just her imaginary friend.
And Finally, Jack, the reason Bod ends up in the graveyard in the first place.
Bod, with the help of the graveyard finally succeeds in saving his own life and begins a new life in the world "Out There". 
The last lines of the lullaby Mrs. Owens used to sing to him carry him into his new world:
...Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.
As I closed the cover I sighed in satisfaction and smiled with gratitude for a story well imagined.
This is YA fiction at its best.  Adults will appreciate it too, maybe more than the kids. 


Kris said...

I have honestly never read a Neil Gaiman book and I regret it. The storylines look great, I need to add one to my tbr. I loved the movie Coraline, very unique. Great review!

Mame Burkett said...

Thanks for stopping by Kris. He definitely has a unique voice. I am looking forward to more of his work and reviewing it here.
Have a great day!