The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
This novel for young readers by the author of Coraline won the 2009 Hugo Award, Carnegie Medal, and Newbery Medal—a hat-trick unique in the the history of these three awards—respectively the highest honors for English-language fantasy novels, children's novels published in the U.K., and ditto in the U.S. When I got around to reading it some three years later, it achieved another honor that only applies to the very best books: It made me cry. But that happened at the end of the book; let's not get ahead of ourselves!
It's the story about a boy who grew up in a graveyard. His name: Nobody. Nobody Owens, adopted by a couple of kindly ghosts on the night his parents and older sister were murdered, has been given the freedom of the graveyard until he grows up. This means that, for the time being, he can "fade" so that ordinary mortals cannot see him; he can "haunt" by putting the frighteners on the living; and he can slide through solid stone and earth to visit the crypts and coffins of the neighborhood, whose owners form a sort of extended family to him. Because, don't you know, it takes a graveyard to raise a child.
Nobody's adventures bring him into contact with some strange beings, including ghouls, a werewolf, a witch, and a vampire. But he is only really in danger from a secret organization whose motives for killing his first family, and for planning to kill the boy himself, are revealed at the very end of the book. Though Nobody is pretty safe while he remains inside the cemetery gates, his danger remains very real because—well, because boys will be boys. Sometimes they rebel. Sometimes they sulk. Sometimes they get lonely for the company of kids their own age. For a while, Nobody even tries to go to school. In spite of all his mistakes and near-disasters, he remains a spirited and active youngster whose wits make him a match for men far stronger than himself.
Whimsical and weird, moving and macabre, this story is like a cross between Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books. You can laugh at the little ways of all the denizens of Nobody's graveyard, but because he loves them, you can't help but love them too. And while the character of Silas, Nobody's undead (but also unliving) guardian, is not the first vampire in fiction to be depicted as a sympathetic character, the reason why he is one in this case comes across (at least to me) as the final twist of the corkscrew, unstopping the tear ducts all the way to the book's messy, nasally congested finish.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 12+
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