Thursday, August 5, 2010

2009 - The Graveyard Book

For proof that not all Newbery books are the same, one only has to pick up "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman.

As I browsed my library's Newbery award section, I was immediately attracted, and even attempted to read the first few pages at the redlight intersections on the trip home. The illustrations perfectly capture the mood of the book and I found myself impatiently flipping ahead to catch a glimpse of the next illustration.

The first chapter of the book was so violent, at first I was uncertain whether this really WAS a Newbery book - after all, no medal was on the cover of the copy (probably because it's a recent winner). Maybe it was a mistake? As an elementary school reader, it probably would have traumatized me, although I probably never would have picked up a book at that age, with the word "Graveyard" in the title, being an especially wimpy, impressionable child. To be fair, the book does clearly state that it's intended audience is middle schoolers.

I have never, as an adult or a child, read a book quite like this one. The tone and style of the writing is not like anything I've encountered before. As a young reader I can see how I would have been drawn into the adventure and suspense, and as an adult I appreciated the various play on words that the author scatters throughout. For example, the child, brought up among the mists and veils of the graveyard has the last name (or at least did, before his family was brutally murdered) of "Dorian", all the killers have the first name of "Jack" along with various last names such as "Frost", "Nimble" etc.

Gaiman doesn't see fit to do much explaining. After finishing the book, I realized just how "bare bones" the plot really is. Boy's family is murdered, boy is adopted by a graveyard. Boy eventually confronts killer in graveyard and through a not-so-well-explained graveyard phenomenon, binds him in an ancient grave with a not-so-well-explained graveyard monster. The book reads more like a collection of loosely related short stories than a traditional mystery or adventure novel.

However, I found the plot irrelevant because what makes this book an enjoyable read is the richness and color of the boy growing up, and having adventures, and the author's unique way with words. I felt like a person, upon discovering a foreigner in their midst, strikes up a conversation only to hear them talk. The book was both simple and complicated at the same time - a juxtaposition that makes the book truly intriguing.

Only time will tell whether this book will become a favorite among it's intended audience and fondly looked back upon, however I will be picking a copy up for my collection and will be recommending it to friends and family.


Carolyn said...

I AM intrigued! Will have to get.
See if you can manage a photo of some type to dress the review!

Mel said...

*sigh* I knew you were going to say that.

Because it's such a new book, I do not feel bad about going to amazon and getting an image......

Funder said...

We listened to this book on our move west. I loved it; I think Gaiman has a fantastic storytelling style. He's got a new kids' book out, Odd and The Frost Giants, and it's also a good fast read.