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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Despite being thought of primarily as an author of adult-oriented literature, Neil Gaiman has published several young adult titles over his career, including MirrorMask, M Is for Magic, and The Books of Magic.  One of his best loved YA titles was Coraline, published in 2002.  Coraline’s imaginative plot, memorable characters and evocative illustrations by Dave McKean made it a modern classic of YA literature, and an excellent film adaptation was released in 2009. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book follows in the footsteps of Coraline and presents another vivid journey into a richly imaginative fantasy world. 

The Graveyard Book is the story of a young boy who wanders into a graveyard and is raised by the ghosts who live there. Though he is too young to realize it, his family has been murdered, and the ghosts have seen a vision from the boy’s mother urging them to take care of her son. They name him Nobody (shortened to “Bod”) for his own protection and grant him the Freedom of the Graveyard, which allows him to see the ghosts of the graveyard and learn their skills. The graveyard grants him protection from many of the concerns of the outside world, but he is not allowed to leave, making the world of the living a fascinating mystery to Bod. While in the graveyard, he is tutored by powerful spirits such as Silas, a mysterious being who vanishes from the graveyard from long periods, and Miss Lupsecu, a harsh but fair teacher with wolfish tendencies.  With their help, he explores the mysteries of the graveyard, learns the ways of ghosts and the living, and strives to solve the mystery of why he isn’t allowed to leave.

Gaiman’s compelling writing style is only one of the things that make The Graveyard Book a compelling read.  Dave McKean’s wonderful illustrations provide brilliant visual insight into Bod’s graveyard home.  Particularly memorable is their use in the first chapter--which employs them to such an extent that it is virtually an illustrated novel.  The characterizations of the ghosts and creatures Bod encounters are brilliantly imagined, with a mix of humor, empathy, and fear. The Sleer, a serpentine inhabitant of an ancient barrow mound, and a group of greedy, manipulative ghouls who operate under aliases, such as “the famous writer Victor Hugo,” stands out as imaginative creatures.  But Gaiman’s vivid, haunting writing style is still the novel’s greatest asset.  Few authors can shift as deftly from humor to sadness within a single sentence as Gaiman can, and few contemporary authors can match his ability to convey a sense of place and human emotion through writing. It is Gaiman who truly makes Bod’s graveyard seem like a real, tangible place.

The Graveyard Book was the first young adult novel to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie awards and received excellent reviews from most literary critics. Gaiman has not published another YA novel since, leaving his many fans wondering when his next delight awaits them.  His next novel slated to be published is an adult-oriented novel titled The Ocean at the End of the Lane, due to be published in 2013.  Although the wait for another Gaiman YA title can be trying, based on his work on Coraline and The Graveyard Book, the results will be more than worth the wait.