This was a fun read that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me want to pull my hair out depending on the scene. In my opinion, these are all signs of a great book. Though I was confused after finishing this book because there was no mention whatsoever to a graveyard book in the book. A graveyard boy, yes, but there was no mention of an actual book. It wasn’t until I was listening to Neil Gaiman discuss how he started and eventually wrote The Graveyard Book that I learned his reasoning: this was Gaiman’s graveyard book like The Jungle Book was Kipling’s book about a jungle.
So there’s your interesting fact for the day.
Summary: Bod lives in a graveyard. He isn’t dead like the many ghosts that live there; he found his way into the graveyard when he was little more than a year old, just after his parents and sister were brutally murdered in their sleep. To protect him the ghosts of the graveyard adopt him as one of their own and, with the help of a mysterious man who comes and goes from the graveyard as he pleases, raise him to be a fine young boy. But the forces that conspired against his family are still looking for him and they won’t stop until he is found and meets the same fate as his family.
Creativity abounds as Gaiman weaves a tale of intrigue, fantasy, and what it’s like for a young boy to grow up. You can tell Gaiman was a father when (or before) writing this simply by the way he understands how children act. Bod does things that make the reader clutch their head and groan, but for a six year-old boy (or any other age between four and fifteen. for that matter) he makes perfectly reasonable decision. This can be frustrating for readers if they aren’t used to children (there were times when this was the case for me), but for those who have children or work with children this book should help you remember all the times the children in your life would do things that drove you crazy. See, I told you it would be a good read.
Like many children’s books and young adult novels, there is a moral to the story. Actually there are several if you look closely, though these may very well be my own interpretations of the book and may have nothing to do with what Neil Gaiman intended while he was writing. I can’t be sure, but when it comes to morals or messages for the audience some people may argue that this borders upon didacticism. In some instances the answer to that is yes, but in Gaiman’s case I think they’re subtle and allow you to enjoy reading his work without feeling oppressed with advice and sermons. Nonetheless, I think children’s books and young adult books should have a moral. Think about it: a moral transforms books into more than just entertainment; they become life lessons that we can use to learn and grow. I mean, always beware of preaching since no child or teenager appreciates it, but I don’t think authors should be afraid to pass on some occasional wisdom while they charm their readers with their stories.
So what about criticism? I haven’t included much friendly criticism about books lately and I think I should try and include a little. Not because all books have problems, but I just don’t think any book is perfect. The problem with this is that I sometimes get so into a story that I forget to be critical, or sometimes I’m too critical when I feel a book doesn’t satisfy me as much as I hoped. This often leads to me staring at this section of the blog post with frozen fingers and an itchy brain as I try to remember any possible anything I think could be improved. Which just so happens to be the case with The Graveyard Book.
The only thing I can think of is not something I would necessarily consider a problem, but is more of a question: why is the main antagonist mentioned so little throughout the book? A reference will pop up occasionally for a couple pages and then not be mentioned for a great while. Sometimes I would forget who the antagonist really was and would be reading the book like a collection of short stories. I can’t imagine the book being written any differently, but how did this strategy work so well? I mean, I would forget about he antagonist and would wonder if they were ever going to come back, yet it worked. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them.
Overall, this was a fun book that took a very new perspective of the gothic fantasy, and it succeeded in every way. It’s short, fun, and easy to read, so there’s no excuse not to at least pick it up and give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?