Monday, March 9, 2009

And the Newbery Goes To.....

The inside of Neil Gaiman's head must be a very spooky place. Interesting, mind you. Inventive. Weirdly captivating. But haunted. What can you say about a man who turns a homage to Kipling's Jungle Book into a story about a human child raised in a graveyard by ghosts, with a werewolf and vampire acting as guardians against human predators? Gaiman's got a lush and exuberant imagination, and it seems to thrive in the twilight zone.

This is a really wonderful book. Little Bod (short for Nobody) Owens escapes the mysterious man who kills the rest of his family and he finds refuge and a new family in an abandoned local graveyard. The whole ghostly graveyard community, in fact, from Caius Pompeius, the senior inhabitant, to Liza Hempstock, the local witch, takes an interest in young Bod, his upbringing, education, and safety. Gaiman cleverly makes the graveyard seem cozy and secure, the outside world perilous (although there are some nail-biting moments around the ghoul's gate) . As Bod grows up, he is increasingly drawn to the outside world, and the dangers around him multiply.

The Graveyard Book is at heart much more of an adventure story than a horror story, and a large part of the pleasure of reading it comes from seeing Bod grow in his capacity to stand up for and protect himself. At the end, I felt a sense of loss when it becomes clear that, just as Mowgli must leave the jungle, the young man Bod has become must leave his graveyard home and take his place with others like himself. But how can a childhood like this fail to leave a mark? Bod will never be ordinary, and I hope Gaiman will treat us to more of his adventures.

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