My friend Daliah Jane of Upon a Midnight Dreary has kindly agreed to provide a piece for my Neil Gaiman Week, for which I am very greatful. So here are her thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book:
There are few more pleasant ways to spend an afternoon than among the crumbling headstones of an old graveyard. The stillness invites thoughts of lifetimes in bygone eras, mortality and ghost stories. You can find the same feelings and themes in the pages of one of last year’s most unusual releases in juvenile fiction.
Neil Gaimon’s “The Graveyard Book,” 2009 winner of the Newbery Medal, invites readers to spend a young lifetime discovering what it might be like to grow up amongst the dead. The book reads like a classic travelogue of an exotic destination that just happens to be about life and death inside a cemetery.
From the first moment, the book defies the idea that macabre themes and characters are inappropriate for children. The story opens with a grisly triple-homicide. Take a passage from the first few pages:
“The hunt was almost over. He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly colored bedroom, surrounded by toys and half-finished models. That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of. One more and his task would be done.”
The intended final victim evades the killer, however, by stumbling on his little legs out of the house and into a cemetery. Sheltered by the inhabitants who christen him Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, the boy is raised by a community of spirits and immortals. The killer never stops looking for him, and Bod is only safe as long as he stays in the cemetery. Since it’s the only existence he knows, he takes his uncanny experiences in stride. His curiosity and nonchalance in the face of the supernatural fortifies the reader and sets an example for young readers who might otherwise be frightened.
My favorite parts of the book are the scenes featuring the ghostly residents of the graveyard. I wish I could witness the enchanting and mysterious Danse Macabre as Gaiman describes it.
Unfortunately there’s little to recommend about the illustrations, which should have added to the story instead of taking away with their erratic lines. Gaiman’s words evoke a much more romantic picture than the illustrations.
Ultimately “The Graveyard Book” offers a creative interpretation of a common setting and the stages of childhood. Its dark elements serve the story and treat the reader with respect.
Have a Dreary Day, xo, Dahlia Jane