The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman, illustrations by Dave McKean (in my edition)
Published 2008 by HarperCollins
I know, I know - I feel like I'm one of the last people on Earth to read this book. And it's really surprising that it took me this long - I love Neil Gaiman (a lot) and this book won the Newbery. I don't really have any good explanation for why it took me so long to read this other than I got caught up in other stuff. Regardless, I finally got around to reading it and realized how I probably shouldn't have waited so long.
This tells the tale of Nobody Owens, a boy whose entire family was murdered and who was subsequently adopted by the local graveyard. And when I say adopted by the graveyard, I mean the ghosts (and other creatures) that inhabit this plot of land. Bod has learned an interesting mix of living and dead skills from his adopted family. He occasionally gets mixed in amongst the living, but he mostly stays in the graveyard. The graveyard is the only place he is safe. Because the man who murdered his family is still looking for him...
I really, really enjoyed this book. Gaiman has created a wonderfully creepy story for kids. I am a firm believer in exposing kids to creepy and scary things when they are young. There has been a recent controversy over a Wall Street Journal article about the dark subject matter that abounds in recent young adult novels. I agree with a lot of the rebuttals that say most kids know how to self-select: kids who want the dark creepy stuff will find it, whether in the young adult/children's section or the adult section, and kids that don't want to read the scarier stuff will stay away. So, I think very little harm can come from publishing these types of books and making them available to those who want to read them. Anyway, this book isn't overly scary but it is dealing with some heavy stuff - an entire family slaughtered in the first chapter with no explanation until much, much later in the book. Gaiman unravels the story in his usual manner - he's just a great storyteller. Bod is a delightful protagonist. He obviously has a very unusual perspective on life and it makes reading about him fun. His adopted graveyard family is full of interesting characters - I actually would have loved to learn more about them all. Gaiman peppers the story with a great balance of living and dead characters and their comings and goings keep the pace of the novel on point. There is just the right touch of magic/supernatural in the story and I loved the ending. I think Bod will make a fantastic young man. Just a brief note: McKean's illustrations enhance the atmosphere that Gaiman has created with his words. They are obscured and creepy and strategically placed. A great package.
This was a controversial winner of the Newbery but I think it's a wonderful story that would appeal to a great number of readers. Gaiman's execution is excellent as always. A really great read.