Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

I'm not normally in the habit of reading kids and YA books. I keep hearing great things about a lot of newer YA fantasy, and I'm sure that it is great, but there's a lot of adult fantasy that I still have to read, and those books tend to be longer, thus giving me more bang for my buck. However, I was intrigued by Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book when I first heard its premise, and decided that I would eventually read it.

At first, I planned to buy the book, but the holidays were approaching and my mother-in-law knows that my husband and I love Gaiman's work, so I decided to wait and see if a copy was part of our holiday package. It wasn't, but then I got distracted by other things. Then my in-laws came to visit from NY and my MIL had read The Graveyard Book on the plane, and she gave it to me, because that's the sort of awesome mother-in-law she is.

A month passed while I was busy, and then one night (Wednesday, to be exact), I was sick and bored, and there it was, sitting, waiting for me on the little end table in my living room. I said to myself "I believe I shall start reading this book." I then proceeded to read it in essentially a single sitting, with only one brief web comic reading break.

Like I said above, kids books, they are too short!

Despite being short, and not as in-depth as I would have liked, The Graveyard Book was a good read. It tells the story of Nobody Owens (Bod for short, Bob to the sort of people who don't care enough to pay attention to what your name really is), a child who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts after an assassin murders the rest of his family. The chapters jump forward in time, different episodes in Bod's life that tie together to form the main plot. It's episodic enough in nature that I could easily see a parent reading a chapter a night with or to their child, but compelling enough that I can also see that parent reading ahead after the kid has gone to sleep.

Bod's graveyard is full of an interesting variety of ghosts from the different eras during which people were still buried in the cemetery (which, at the time of the book, had long since been closed and turned into a nature preserve), ranging from a Roman ghost to various Victorian-era children who become Bod's playmates. These secondary characters are mostly sketchy, but still enjoyable. The book is too brief to really develop any of the characters in depth, another reason why I don't read a lot of kids books.

The Graveyard Book is dark in tone, but whimsically so, much like the movie Coraline (and the book, too, I'm assuming. I just haven't read it). Some kids may be scared by it, but I think that most parents are probably a good enough judge of their children to know ahead of time whether they'll like a book full of ghosts. There are some intense moments in it, but nothing too bad. I think it's the perfect read for a fledgling Goth.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Gaiman was heavily influenced by Kipling's Jungle Book when he wrote this. Unfortunately, I had a deprived childhood and never read that book. I've only seen the animated Disney movie, and I'm sure that's not much of a comparison (hey, I have read the original Little Mermaid and that isn't anything like the Disney movie. Don't even get me started on the original versions of Snow White or Cinderella).

I'm currently working my way through Halting State by Charles Stross, so expect another book review soon.

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