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Friday, March 5, 2010

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is my first Neil Gaiman book, and I'm definitely planning on reading more. I'd heard a lot of praise of this book, but it still didn't prepare me for the elegance of his style.

Though I liked the drawings, the real charm of this book is the writing. Gaiman has woven a really beautiful coming-of-age tale in which Nobody Owens, the main character, learns some harsh lessons about the nature of life and love. As most people are probably aware by now, there is some violence in the book and it may not be for the younger audience. However, I am not one of those parents who thinks that children need to be protected from everything scary in life. In fact, I'm willing to wager that the average Wii game has more graphic violence than what is portrayed in this book. Some of it is quite scary, that is true, but children need to learn how to control fear and how to recognize when fear is real and important and when it's something they just need to overlook.

One of the things I liked best about the book is that Gaiman never really comes out and tells the reader exactly what the other characters are, leaving you to piece together the clues he drops and figure this out for yourself. This is particularly true of Silas, and I was probably around a third of the way into the book before I realized what his character was. I really admire this as it demands that the reader pay attention to what he or she is reading. It's also a perfect example of an author showing rather than telling. Lastly, it lends to the idea of the book that what people are on the outside isn't really as important on the inside. Is it really that vital that the reader know what Silas is, or is it more significant that the reader sees just how Silas helps Bod learn and grow, and how seriously Silas takes his role as guardian and protector of Bod.

As for Bod, I found him to be an excellent character. He is a very typical boy, with a boy's characteristic curiosity. He occasionally acts out of sheer pettiness and must suffer the consequences. Through Bod, Gaiman also teaches children some important lessons. Sometimes, even though we do what is right, it does not earn us the admiration of those about whose opinions we care the most. This is a painful lesson, but a very valuable lesson--especially in a society such as ours, that emphasizes instant gratification. Bod is a very moral character, but the things he does don't always end well for him and sometimes cause him more trouble than anticipated. Isn't this true of life in general? Sometimes our actions do set many unintended consequences into motion.

Another strong aspect of the book is the unconventional relationships within it. While they are certainly fantastical, this book has a lot to say about the true meaning of the word "family", and how families can form amongst the unlikeliest groups of people. As The Graveyard Book shows, families take responsibility for one another, and care for one another without asking for something in return. Just as his guardian does, Bod learns that he ultimately must make sacrifices for his family, that he must place their needs above those of his own at times. It is a responsibility that he does not shirk, and I think that's an excellent message for anyone.

I highly recommend this book. It is a subtle, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad read. It is a book that will make children think, just as all great literature makes a reader think.


  1. Gaiman is good at expecting his reader to figure things out.

  2. I like his writing style. One of these days I have to find the time to read more of his books. So many books, so little time!