Monday, August 26, 2013

Gaiman's Otherworldly Look at Childhood

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins
4 Out of 5 Stars

What a dark, macabre, and lovely book. Occasionally, I run across a book like this that gives me hope for young adult fiction (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another such book that I read earlier this year). 

I know that the book is loosely based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which I've never read (of course, I saw the Disney movie, but I'm assuming they managed to bugger that up like they do everything else--although, I will admit to loving Bagheera, mainly because of Sebastian Cabot's great voice). In both, a baby is abandoned to the care of an unlikely family: in Kipling, Mowgli is raised by the various inhabitants of the jungle; in Gaiman, Nobody "Bod" Owens is raised by the unlikely denizens of a forgotten graveyard. Without having read The Jungle Book, my ability to draw any further comparisons between the two ends there, but what I can tell you is that this is a book that I would have loved as a child and that I did love as an adult. It transcends age because it's a well told, intelligent story that doesn't pull any punches. There's always darkness in Gaiman's fiction--tragedies happen to good people and bad people alike, things go bump in the night, happy endings are tinged with the bittersweet, and sometimes the scariest thing in the world is human nature. 

The book begins with the chilling line, "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." If that isn't an instant hook, I don't know what is. We quickly find that the hand belongs to the man Jack, who has just killed Nobody's father, mother, and sister, and is now intent on killing Nobody, who is just a toddler. From there, the story is told in a series of vignettes that show Nobody growing up, his adventures in the graveyard (a wonderland to a child with an imagination and no fear of death), and his interactions with the dead and undead alike. There are ghosts, ghouls, vampires, witches, werewolves--none of whom are as frightening as the man Jack, who is still pursuing Nobody after all these years.

The only reason I gave this a 4 instead of a 5 is because of just a wee bit of predictability that certainly didn't ruin the story and would probably be missed by someone younger. Highly recommended. 

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