Saturday, May 23, 2009
I'm not really sure why the choice of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (320 pgs, Harper Collins, 2008) as a Newberry Winner surprised me so much. As a true fan-girl, I know the supreme awesomeness that IS Neil Gaiman. I just didn't realize that others, most notably the CRITICS and NEWBERRY judges, knew it too. Read for both the Once Upon a Time III Challenge and the YA reading challenge, this charming and enchanting book was both dark and beautiful.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
And so begins the tale of a boy named Nobody. Nobody Owens. Or Bod for short. When he was only 18 months old the man Jack slipped into his home late at night and murdered Bod's family. Only sheer luck and happenstance (and the curious wanderings of a toddler) saved Bod's life. He stumbled into a Graveyard, and when the ghosts that inhabited the yard saw him, they knew the little boy was in trouble. The man Jack was trying to find the boy, and his mother, recently deceased pleaded with the inhabitants of the graveyard to protect her son. Mr. and Mrs. Owens, a couple that could never have children in life, took it upon themselves to "adopt" the boy. Since they could not leave the Graveyard, the mysterious Silas (a member of the "Honour Guard") and another resident took it upon himself to be the boy's guardian. He was able to leave, and provide food and clothing for Bod.
As the years went by, Bod learned a lot from the residents of the graveyard. Because his situation was unique, he was given the Freedom of the Graveyard. What this means is that he is allowed to enter places the average human being isn't able to. He is also learning skills such as fading, dreamwalking, and sliding. The ghosts of the graveyard were his friends, his family, his teachers. Each of the 8 chapters is like it's own little story, with Bod progressing from being a toddler to becoming a teenager.
Honestly, I don't think it's humanly possible for me to gush MORE about Neil Gaiman. Every person that reads this blog knows I'm a huge fan. But who knew this book would be something even more special than some of his other books? (oh, yeah...that's right. The people that gave him the Newberry Award!) In typical Neil Gaiman fashion, this book is really dark for a children's book. Death is the absolute core of this book. His family is killed at the beginning, and he spends his life in a graveyard. He is surrounded each day by the dead. If he leaves the graveyard, there are people waiting out there to kill him too, although he doesn't know why. But through it all, Bod turns out to be a real person, knowing his time at the graveyard is limited.
My favorite "stories", out of all the chapters, are probably the ones with Liza, the witch. When Bod was eight, Silas explained to him about Potter's Field, and the people that were buried in the unconsecrated ground. A "witch" lived over the fence in Potter's Field, and her name was Liza Hempstock and when Bod falls out of a tree there, she helps him. Trying to think of something nice to do for her in return, Bod decides he needs to buy her a headstone, for she is buried in an unmarked grave. What starts out as a tiny little trip outside the gates, ends up being a dangerous journey. But Liza had followed Bod. When she found out the reason he was in the outside world, she helped him escape back to the graveyard, and forever had a soft spot for Young Bod. And if I was hard pressed to actually pick one chapter as my FAVORITE, it would probably be the Danse Macabre.....the one day that all the ghosts were allowed outside of the walls of the graveyard, to do the Danse of the Macabray.
A little something for everyone, this book should appeal to kids and adults alike. With an unbelievable cast of characters ranging from a curious little boy to ghosts parents to a guardian that is quite an enigma. Although it never really says, I have a feeling that Silas might possible be a vampire, since his interactions with humans are different than the others in the graveyard. There are also a whole host of ghouls, bad guys, and even a werewolf. And when Bod is allowed to go out of the graveyard to school, he learns the best from both worlds.
Quite frankly, this is one of the best books I've read all year. So far, I haven't met a Newberry that I didn't like. The Graveyard Book is no exception to the rule! Go Read This Book! Right now. Run, don't walk to the nearest library!! 5/5