27 November 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The title of Neil Gaiman's latest novel for kids was confusing to me until I saw the acknowledgments at the end. When Gaiman said that he owed a debt of gratitude to Rudyard Kipling, the title made more sense. Kipling's The Jungle Book was about a boy raised by animals and Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is about a boy raised by ghosts.

The story starts with a toddler whose family is killed (don't worry, the murder is not described in detail). He manages to get away from the murderer and wanders into the neighboring graveyard, which has been closed to new burials for over 30 years and is now a nature preserve. The spirit of his mother manages to ask the other ghosts to protect her baby before she disappears. As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." In this novel, it happens to be a village of ghosts.

The book reads like a series of short stories. The boy, nicknamed Bod, can't leave the graveyard because the man who killed his family is still on a mission to find him. So each chapter jumps ahead to a different stage in his life. The reader sees Bod when is he is five, then when he is eight, then ten, then fifteen years old. He has a foot in both worlds so he learns how to read and write as well as how to haunt people. At first is seems as though the mystery of who Bod is and why someone would still want kill him after all these years will not be solved, but it all comes together in the end.

The Graveyard Book is sadder than I expected it to be, although there are some amusing bits. It is recommended for ages 9-12, but I think some kids in that age range might be too sensitive to read it. The loss of parents and friends would be too much for at least one of my kids. However, if your kid loves a little spookiness in her books, give this one a try.

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