Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review #12

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though I loved many of the Newberry Medal winning books as I child, it's been years since I read a new one. If you're the same, let me whole-heartedly recommend The Graveyard Book as a re-entry point into the world of childrens' literature.

Simply, this is a beautiful little book. Gaiman takes the question, "what would it be like for a child to grow up in a cemetery?" and tells the story of a loving community, that despite it's obvious idiosyncrasies, feels surprisingly true, and nearly normal. The most compelling aspect of the book is the main character, Bod, short for "Nobody."

In books like Neverwhere, Stardust, and American Gods, Gaiman describes the growth of males from stunted adolescents to manhood. Unlike the males in those books, Bod's journey isn't strictly heroic, instead he grows through thought and exploration. He is a solemn, sympathetic, and inquisitive boy that I think many men could learn from.

My one quibble is with the adversary. The villainy was far more hollow and arbitrary than in other Gaiman works. In style and vague suspense they hark most to Croup and Vandemar from Neverwhere, but whereas C&Vs' relative lack of origins makes them even more chilling, with "the Jacks" I feel the opposite affect. Over the course of the book we learn that "the Jacks" are an ancient brotherhood of ne'er-do-wells, but the roots or purpose of their work is just a bit too ephemeral to me. "The Jacks" are tools, but to what end? Gaiman tells a hauntingly beautiful story about a boy growing up in a cemetery and for me that's enough. At times "the Jacks" were compelling (like when there were knives or history involved), but really they were too vague a menace to feel like a fully realized and necessary part of the book.

But leaving aside that aside, I wish there was more. I could have easily and happily spent another 100 pages watching Bod grow up, or finding out the truth (or more of the truth) about Silas. Gaiman has said that he hasn't rule out returning to this world, and I'd love to read a story about Bod's experience in the world beyond the graveyard.

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