It's hard to believe that a children's book can create such a great amount of buzz in such a short amount of time. I heard of parents that were outraged when they read the first few pages of this book after it appeared on their children's 7th grade summer reading list. I also heard that The Graveyard Book was the recipeint of some very prestigious awards -- The John Newberry Medal, ALA Notable Children's Book, The Hugo Award, Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, just to name a few. I was intrigued, especially by the controversy, but not having read the book, I couldn't put my two cents in. Until now.
Nobody Owens, "Bod" to his friends, is a typical boy who grows up in anything but a typical place. The night his family is murdered by the man named Jack, he decided to crawl out of his crib and pad up the street to the local cemetary. His mother's recently deceased spirit pleads with the ghosts in the graveyard to protect her son. They agree, and the Graveyard becomes Bod's home, and the ghosts become his family, for the next 14 years.
I loved this book. The first 5 pages are not only spooky, they are goosebumps-on-your-arms and chills-up-your-spine scary. It's not the first children's story to begin with a boy whose parents are killed - Harry Potter, anyone? The difference is that the murder weapon in Harry Potter is a wand, which leaves no marks, and in the Graveyard Book, it's a knife. "The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor...the knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet."
A boy growing up in a cemetary doesn't exactly sound like the story dreams are made of, but there are beautiful moments in this book. Without giving anything away, there are some wonderful scenes between Bod and his guardians, and there are also some touching moments Bod has with the cemetary's resident witch. There really is not much that Bod experiences in the graveyard with the spirits who live there, that he wouldn't experience outside of it in the world of the living.
I couldn't help but be reminded of Her Fearful Symmetry when exploring this graveyard through Bod's eyes. Like Niffenegger's book, it's not what happens inside the cemetary that's frightening, it's what's outside the cemetary that we should be afraid of.
One of my favorite lines of the books is in the beginning, when the ghosts are discussing whether or not to allow the boy to stay. Bod's guardian pleads the boy's case:
"For good or for evil - and I firmly believe that it is for good - Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will, said Silas, "take a graveyard."
All of the graveyard's spirits keep Bod safe from harm by allowing him to be a Friend of the Graveyard. The help to keep him safe, but not by protecting him and hiding him. Instead, they teach him how to protect himself, hide himself, fight for himself, and, in the end, he must save his own life, as the man Jack comes back to finish the job he started when Bod was just a baby.
I find it a shame that some parents judged this book by the first five pages. I wish they had read the whole book through. If they had, they would have found a lovely story wrapped in a supernatural package that appeals to both young and old.
To read an excerpt or to hear an audio excerpt, visit the publisher's website for more information on The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
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About the Book:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins; Later Printing edition (September 30, 2008)
Will be available in paperback July 2010.