Tuesday, November 02, 2010

the graveyard book

Happy Day of the Dead! The Gaiman-athon continues.

I really enjoy Neil Gaiman's writing. But this book, The Graveyard Book, is exceptional. It seemed at first a possibly odd choice for the Newbery Medal last year, but it was well-deserved. When one thinks about all of the grisly happenings in fairy tales, and how many things in the real world that can be sometimes perceived as frightening to children, a book like this is actually a balm.

Admittedly, it starts off with a bit of a shock, with a brutal murder of a family that unfortunately is not too far from the headlines of many local newspapers. The child that survives the attack, another "boy who lived," but with a distinctly different future in store, fortuitously crawls up the hill to a neighboring graveyard, where he is adopted by some kindly ghosts, and watched over by a young witch, a werewolf, and, although never blatantly stated, a guardian vampire.

The book of course has its fantasy aspects in featuring all of these creatures of the night and shadows. But what is its strong point, and what comes across most clearly in the reading, is how we, along with the graveyard's inhabitants, get the opportunity to watch little Nobody "Bod" Owens grow up, through all the struggles and childhood challenges he faces. He may be able to walk through walls and make himself disappear as long as he is under the protection of the magical Grey Lady and the graveyard, but when it comes down to it, he has many of the same issues as any sheltered child.

The world outside his graveyard home is dangerous—full of folks who may do him harm or, even worse, other children who may not want to be his friend, schools that teach things that may not be entirely accurate. We feel Bod's growing pains and his need to move beyond his supernatural family—all the time realizing that no one may ever love him as much as this family, but he will still have to go when the time is right. I could relate to Bod's need to break out of the protective cocoon. It brought back memories of my hitting the road for New York City as soon as I could fly out of the nest. But I also remember tearful nights in my new home and realizing that I couldn't go back—we can never really go back, even when we visit. Everything had changed. I had changed. I was in tears at the end of this book, both for my lost childhood and with the realization that I will sooner than I want to be living this timeless story from the other side, when my daughter is ready to leave home.

The other touching aspect of the novel are all of the dead characters. How many of us have lost someone, and wished or wondered if there was some sort of existence, similar to their living one, that might continue? Bod gets to know people from many different eras in his town's history. He gets a built-in history lesson as well as the reassurance that death is not final. He learns not to fear death or endings.

Gaiman may use a fantastic setting, but he is telling a true, heartfelt journey of growing up, for both child and parent.

The Graveyard Book is truly one of the most wonderful books that I have read in a long time.

Book #2 in reading challenge Cannonball Read 3, sponsored by Pajiba

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