Some schools have a very cool program called "DEAR" - Drop Everything and Read. Basically, at a certain time of the day, they all stop what they're doing and read for 30 minutes. Don't you wish they had that at work? Anyway, there are some authors whose books, when they come out, make me drop everything I'm currently reading and immediately start reading the new book. That happened with this one, which I've been waiting for with great anticipation, particularly as it's the Halloween season, my favorite time of year for spooky reads.
The book opens with a fairly chilling scene: a killer is silently making his way through a house at night, methodically (and with a repellent sort of quiet glee) killing each member of the family. We see no blood or violence, but it is clear what is happening. When the man gets to the last and youngest member of the family, he finds the crib empty. The child is a bit of an escape artist and, finding the front door ajar, he has toddled outside and up the street to the cemetery. Jack, the killer, is clearly not an ordinary assassin. He sniffs the air and effortlessly follows the child's trail. Little does he expect the baby to see the ghosts that congregate there, nor that the spirit of the boy's dead mother will appeal to them to save her son.
That boy, called Bod, short for Nobody, is raised in the graveyard by the ghosts and a mysterious guardian, for it is the only place where he can be safe. His new family tries the best they can to ensure he learns the important lessons he'll need in order to survive - not just as a living, human boy - for they know that the threat that initially pursued him to the cemetery is still out there, waiting for him to venture beyond the graveyard fence.
I loved this book. It is essentially a coming-of-age story, but with, of course, an interesting twist. The fantastical elements not only add a delicious sense of peril, but they serve as a compelling means of exploring the human psyche, of defining what, in the end, it really means to be human. I loved the characters, Bod's ghostly parents, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, his guardian Silas, and the young witch who was buried in the unconsecrated land beside the cemetery. The setting was so evocative that I feel as though I've strolled through the graveyard, slipped through the ivy, and sat with my back against the sun-warmed side of a crypt. This is sure to become one of my favorites to reread during the Halloween season. I highly recommend it!
For some extra fun, you can visit Neil Gaiman's website to see a very cool video tour: "At each stop on the tour, Neil will read one chapter from The Graveyard Book. Beginning on October 1st, we will post the video readings daily. By the end of the tour, on October 9th, you will be able to watch the master storyteller himself read The Graveyard Book in its entirety right here."
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Dave McKean (HarperCollins, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
Stainless Steel Droppings
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Other B&OT reviews of Neil Gaiman's books:
The Dangerous Alphabet
The Wolves in the Walls