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The Graveyard Book December 10, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.
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Ah, Neil Gaiman. The guy simply has a knack for spinning a great yarn around interesting concepts. The mythology at the heart of the award-winning Sandman series? Money. The hidden world of London’s underground showcased in Neverwhere? Fantastic. A love story between a man and a fallen star (Stardust)? Ancient deities among us in the modern world (American Gods/Anansi Boys)? Marvel Superheroes reimagined 400 years before their time (1602)? A disembodied hand that terrifies children at night (Coraline)? The list just goes on and on.

But just to prove there is no shortage of great ideas in the man’s head, he comes up with the gem that is The Graveyard Book. All bets are off, ladies and gents: this one’s a real winner.

It’s a simple story, really, and one that’s not quite horror, not quite fantasy, but wholly intriguing. Nobody Owens has spent his entire life living in a graveyard after his family was murdered by an unknown assailant when he was a mere infant. Raised by the graveyard folk, he ends up having as normal a childhood as one can have with adoptive parents who are ghosts, a vampire for a guardian, and the “freedom of the graveyard” that bestows upon him certain abilities beyond the grasp of the living. Yet his parents’ killer is still out to get him, too, and protecting Bod, or helping him confront this nemesis, will prove to be a challenge for both living and (un)dead alike.

The tale is a short one, but because of the interesting premise readers will forgive Mr. Gaiman for indulging himself (or is he indulging them?) by devoting much of the text simply to flesh out the details of this pseudo-macabre/fantasy setting. Indeed, the book’s main failing lies in how the plot builds up slowly, only coming to a head in rush at the end. But let there be no mistaking the novel is great fun that will certainly appeal to Young Adults (presumably its target audience) and afficionados of modern fiction (presumably Mr. Gaiman’s usual audience) alike. To read The Graveyard Book is to surrender to Neil Gaiman’s extraordinary vision, to appreciate the underlying message about the importance of family — no matter how unusual one’s might be — and to acknowledge that Mr. Gaiman may be right that it does take a graveyard to raise a child.

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