Monday, October 6, 2008

The perfect Halloween read

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:
Anansi Boys
The Dangerous Alphabet
Interworld
The Wolves in the Walls

18 comments:

  1. I totally want DEAR at work and this sounds like an excellent book. Definitely another one to add to the stack.

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  2. I want a DEAR as well, only I want work to only be 30 minutes and the rest to be reading!!! ;)

    Great review of the book. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. It really is the perfect read for this season of the year, its timing for publication could not have been more perfect!!
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  3. Bookchronicle - it really was a great read - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Carl - I like the way you think! I'm on board with whatever place of work adopts that DEAR policy! You are right - the timing for this one made me anxious to read it the second I got my hands on the book.

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  4. You know what, I think I'm just going to start watching the video tour and that will be that. Because the wait for this book is driving me nuts!

    I'm so glad you loved it, Darla. I know I will too!

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  5. Oh my gosh. It sounds incredible. *goes to video tour*

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  6. Nymeth - I might watch the video tour with my kids. I'm feeling a bit guilty about whisking the book off to read by myself. I couldn't deal with doing it a chapter at a time, reading aloud to them. I had to see what happened! Although I am a teensy bit worried that the beginning will give them bedtime creeps. My dog started barking for no apparent reason in the middle of the night last weekend, and I have to admit that an image of Jack flashed through my mind as I got up to see what was going on! (No Jack, happy to report.)

    RR2 - hope you enjoy it! :-)

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  7. I can't wait to read this. I expect our dear Carl and Chris to adore it, as well as Nymeth, but I'm even more enticed by your opinion, Darla.

    I do adore DEAR as well. So do my kids. We read for 20 minutes every day, and then write in a reading response journal. Isn't that a great habit to establish at EIGHT years old?! I wish I'd been allowed to read in elementary school. I mean, when I wasn't sneaking my book underneath my desk during Math.

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  8. My daughter participates in DEAR on Fridays in her first grade class and parents are encouraged to stop in to read to the kids. I will be going in this Friday to read the really cute Children's Halloween book Vunce Upon A Time.

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  9. Thanks, Bellezza! I'm sure you'll enjoy it. My kids do the 20-minute (often longer, which is great!) read after school, and I take the opportunity to join in with them - a nice afternoon break! Both my girls have been busted reading at school when they were supposed to be doing something else. The one teacher actually told me that she couldn't be too upset about it because my daughter was reading Dahl's Matilda, "which is such a wonderful book!" I had to laugh.

    Stephanie - that's a great reading choice for this time of year. I'm sure the kids will love it!

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  10. I knew you'd love it! This is one of those books that I can't imagine anyone not loving. It was just written so well and it was such a great story. I'm with you on it joining my yearly Halloween reads. Last year I added The Halloween Tree by Bradbury to that list, this year it's The Graveyard Book!

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  11. Chris - I agree with you about the book having such appeal. I brought it back to the library yesterday and immediately handed it to one of my co-workers because I know she'll just love it. She took one look at the opening pages and and was very excited to take it home! I'm in the middle of reading The Halloween Tree to my girls, and we're all enjoying it. We're up to the Day of the Dead in Mexico part. It makes me want to have a Halloween party in a graveyard! :-)

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  12. I think a couple of my schools did that DEAR thing too. By the time I was a senior in high school they had gotten tired of trying to make everyone read when they wouldn't. I haven't read a Gaiman book since Anansi's Boys but I really want to read Coraline and this one.

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  13. I am really looking forward to reading this and may cave and buy the hardback. Especially after loving Coraline so much.

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  14. Ladytink - I'm too old for the DEAR thing, sadly (but to the annoyance of my family I constantly drop everything and read at home, teehee). You're sure to love Coraline and this one - you're really in for a treat!

    Rhinoa - I doubt you'll be sorry you got it in hard cover. I already know I'll be rereading it! :-)

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  15. I ordered this one the other day. :) We definitely all need DEAR built into our daily lives!

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  16. Dewey - I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of it when you read it! I have DEAR fantasies - can you imagine the bus stopping by the side of the road, and everyone whipping out a book? And that, of course, would be a valid excuse for being late anywhere. :-D

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  17. The Graveyard Book is on its way to me as I type - and I can't wait.

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  18. Carrie - that's exciting! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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