Friday, November 28, 2008

Cannonball Read #12: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I think that a writer has truly succeeded when they have made you believe that there is magic in the world. It doesn't have to be the illusionist type of magic or the kind done by grizzled witches over cauldrons. There is so much magic in the world...the magic of the written word, the magic of flowers blooming despite my best efforts, the magic of running into your old friend in a city miles away from where you first met, the magic of looking just like your grandmother. When a writer has truly arrived when they can tap in to any one of these strains of everyday magic, and remind you to believe in and hope for them.

Sometimes, though, it's about everyday magic AND actual incantations-and-ghosties magic, and Neil Gaiman is an expert in spinning tales abut this particular variety. The Graveyard Book is no exception, following his previous works about the magical worlds whizzing along underneath our ordinary lives. This is a children's book, which makes it exactly 0% less awesome for adult readers, but makes me personally 100% sure that Neil Gaiman is exactly the kind of uncle you would want for your child...someone who will challenge them to think about right and wrong in new ways and understand that they will have to apply it in their lives. So many kids get this weird idea that the difference between good and evil is mostly academic, and I think it's largely because they're frequently told about it rather than learning it through experience and consideration. The Graveyard Book affords the reader no such luxury; you MUST consider how and why good and evil work.

More than the lessons available within its covers, The Graveyard Book works within this incredibly rich world that blends our visible, known world with an unseen universe of ghosts and ghouls and most of all, houses the people who live between both parts. The story follows the young life of Nobody Owens, a boy who came to the graveyard after his family was brutally murdered by a mysterious man named Jack. The small boy winds up in the care of two ghosts, and really of the whole graveyard. His guardians believe that the man Jack is still looking for Nobody in the outside world, and to protect him, they insist that he grow up inside the graveyard, being taught by the ghosts and what his protector, Silas, brings in. Nobody makes several forays into the world beyond the graveyard gates, and each one ends poorly, even as it reveals a little more of the mystery of Nobody's identity and pursuers.

To explain more would be to wreck a brilliantly rendered ending, and I'm certainly not going to be the one to do that. This, though, is the story you read your smart eight year old to make them a lifelong reader. The beautiful illustrations in the book from Dave McKean are just enough to make that transition from picture-heavy books into chapter books, and in their own right are simply gorgeous. It's really a treat for the reader when an illustrator and author find such amazing synchronicity, and it's clear that Gaiman and McKean have something truly special, and have been cultivating it throughout their long relationship; regular Gaiman readers will doubtless recognize the name and corresponding work from the Sandman series.

The first Gaiman book I read was Neverwhere (another fabulous gift of awesome from the book club), and I immediately yelled at the book clubbers for keeping Gaiman from me all this time, then ran out and got my hands on everything I could of his. This book would prompt the same reaction from me, and should in everyone...Gaiman is flawless as always.

320 pages

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