by Neil Gaiman
Finished June 11, 2010
This book received the Newbery Medal for 2009. That was surprising, since Neil Gaiman is British and the Newbery Medal is for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." But, The Graveyard Book was published in the United States and Gaiman now lives in this country. The book is still very British in flavor - one of the reasons I liked it. It's set in modern times, but has a very old fashioned feel because the ghostly characters are of all historical eras from pre-Druid to the 1950's.
It begins with a murder: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." A man, woman and little girl are killed by "the man Jack." Only a baby, "barely a toddler," escapes. The baby is old enough to walk and he does walk - all the way to an old nearby graveyard. The man Jack follows him, but is unable to finish his job because the toddler is taken in by two kindly ghosts - Mr. and Mrs. Owens. They promise the child's mother (now a ghost and on her way to her own graveyard) to keep the toddler safe and raise him. Silas, neither dead nor alive, becomes his guardian and provides the child with food.
The plot of this book is often summed up with the paraphrase, "it takes a graveyard to raise a child." Bod (the child is named Nobody) is given "the Freedom of the Graveyard." As such, he is able to live within it's walls, see and talk to all of it's residents. He even learns to do such things as "fade," "dreamwalk," and cast fear into people's minds.
Bod lives a happy but sheltered life in the cemetary. But he can never hope to ever enter the outside world as long as the man Jack is still looking for him.
The Graveyard Book is part Harry Potter, part Jungle Book. In fact, Neil Gaiman says in his acknowledgements, "First and foremost, and forever: I owe an enormous debt, conscious and, I have no doubt, unconscious, to Rudyard Kipling and the two volumes of his remarkable work The Jungle Book. I read them as a child, excited and impressed, and I've read and reread them many times since."
This is an exciting, funny, somtimes spooky, always charming story. I've heard that the audio book version, narrated by Gaiman himself, is fantastic. There are plans to make it into a movie, which is easy to imagine as you read the book. Gaiman has an excellent way of bringing his story and characters to life in the reader's mind.