The Graveyard Book
Audiobook read by Neil Gaiman
2009 Newberry Award Winner
Nobody Owens is a child raised by ghosts in a graveyard, and pursued by a nefarious organization that has already murdered his mortal family. The ghosts take care of his emotional needs, and a vampire takes care of his physical needs. Bod grows up surrounded by spirits and ghouls, and is instructed by deceased teachers and one very fierce werewolf. He longs for the living and makes friends with some children that visit the cemetery, as it is also a nature preserve, and tries to go to school in the outside world with varying success. The Graveyard Book is a series of collected vignettes of his young life. It concludes with a final battle against the malicious organization that charted the course of his life.
Sounds like an unusual topic to appeal to children and win a national book award, no? However, Gaiman adroitly handles all these themes in a manner that makes sense, and explains it at a level relatable to its target audience.
The characters are enjoyable. Bod is the most vividly drawn, but the other minor characters are clearly the products of the time and places in which they grew up. Their personalities are hinted at by the epitaphs written upon their headstones.
The audiobook separates chapters and events with evocative fiddle music. The book is interspersed with line drawings. Both digressions serve their purpose and are very well suited to the mediums in which they’re used.
One weakness of the book was the failure to even consider the implications of an afterlife in which people merely hang about their gravesites. It made me wonder what message, if any, Gaiman intended by that. It’s a peculiarly depressing notion, reminiscent of an eternity spent in a style similar to that of the high school lunch hour complete with petty bickering and cliques.
I would recommend this to mature young readers and teens, as well as adults who enjoy a touch of the fantastic.
Read-a-likes for this book include the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, author Clive Barker, and author Charles de Lint.