Anything Neil Gaiman writes is bound to be a twisted and dark story, even when he is writing for younger readers. Gaiman is best known for The Sandman comics and recently Coraline.
Continuing in the trend established by Coraline, Gaiman’s newest novel, The Graveyard Book, is a spooky tale meant for his young adult audience.
The Graveyard Book tells the story of a boy whose entire family was murdered when he was an infant. Nobody “Bod” Owens, as he comes to be called, is taken in by the ghosts who live in the graveyard near his family’s house.
He grows up as a special inhabitant of the graveyard. He is a living child, but he is granted the “Freedom of the Graveyard” to allow him some of the powers of the dead.
As Bod grows up, he attends lessons from different ghosts who teach him reading, writing, and how to haunt. Growing up in a graveyard obviously presents a few challenges for Bod. His friends are dead and never change as he gets older and taller.He is not allowed to leave the graveyard because the man who assassinated his family is still after him.
However, how do ghosts stop an adventurous and curious boy from leaving? Throughout the story, Bod has different adventures involving various members of the graveyard, much like Mowgli did in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling which partly inspired this novel.
The Graveyard Book is a quick read, not only because it is meant for younger readers, but because it is hard to put down. Gaiman has a knack for creating anticipation and telling stories a little out of the ordinary for normal life but perfectly acceptable for his characters.
It makes sense in the context of the story to have a boy who grows up in a graveyard have lessons in how to Fade and Dreamwalk because Gaiman’s story transcends the boundaries of normal life.
Making the book even more interesting are Dave McKean’s black and white illustrations that add to the haunted and gray ambiance of Bod’s life.
The power of his illustrations to emphasize the intensity of the story starts on the first pages of the novel.
On an entirely black two pages, there is the chapter title and a single sentence printed in white next to an illustration of a man’s hand holding an incredibly sharp knife.
Illustrations similar to these continue throughout the book, sometimes taking up more of a page than the text and sometimes giving the text its shape.
The incorporation of the illustrations makes the novel seem more like a children’s book, but the real purpose is to convey the graveyard to the reader.
One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that The Graveyard Book is not Coraline.
Fans of Gaiman who pick up this book expecting it to be like Coraline will have some incorrect preconceptions and expectations.
The Graveyard Book is a novel meant for the same audience as Coraline, but it is not quite as scary of a story.
Coraline is faced with a dangerous alternate universe in which nothing is exactly what it seems, which provides for more suspense.
Bod’s story is more about the uniqueness of a life lived with the dead than about thrills or suspense. However, this does not make it any less of an amazing story for readers of any age.
In fact, The Graveyard Book was just awarded the John Newbery Medal by the American Library Association to recognize its excellence and contribution to children’s literature.