Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008
Format: Audiobook Narrated by the author
Awards: Newberry Medel Winner 2009
I’m on a course to read all of the Newberry Medal winners that I missed over the last couple of busy decades. I must tell you that I put off reading this book earlier because, when I first started it, it made me a bit squeamish. I’m not a lover of ghost stories either. But, so many people love this book that I pushed myself forward. The library offered an audiobook version read by the author. This turned out to be the best way to experience this award-winning novel.
As the story opens, a killer is systematically killing the residents of a house. Mother, father and big sister have already been killed when the year-and-a-half-year old baby bounces out of his crib, down the stairs and out the door. Lucky little guy that he is, he manages to get inside a nearby graveyard. There the residents/ghosts of the graveyard agree to protect him and give him a home. A man named Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, promises to be his special guardian.
The boy is named Nobody (Bod, for short) because no one knows anything about him other than he is only safe within the graveyard. The boy grows past the toddler stage and on into boyhood. He learns the alphabet from letters on the tombstones, his numbers as well.
As you would expect, Bod is curious about life outside the graveyard. When he is about five he makes friends with a little girl whose mother brings her to the adjacent nature preserve. Its a short-lived friendship as his attempt to go to a regular school. Bod knows how dangerous it can be outside the graveyard. Jack, the man who killed his family, is still looking for Bod. Jack’s goal is to kill him.
As Bod gets closer to his fifteenth birthday, we see him as a nearly mature Bod. Its a good thing because Jack (and quite a few other Jacks) now know where he is. There is a well thought-out plan to lure him out to where they can kill him. The conlusion is as spine-tingling as the rest of the story and quite satisfying.
My own personal history was changed with this book. I am no longer an anti-ghost story person. I give all the credit to Neil Gaiman. He’s both a creative, gifted writer and a skilled genius-level narrator. His descriptions, his dialogue and plot development are so complete that he created this moving picture in my head. I loved all the voices in my ear as well. He brought a variety of English accents and loved his Scottish brogue.
There were times when the story scared me, made me say “Yuck!” right out loud, and gave me goosebumps. In spite of a lifetime of believing so, I did not have nightmares during or after this book experience. In fact, I have thought and talked about The Graveyard Book so much that my behavior my be considered obsessive. The bottom line is that this book is now on the list of best books of the year.
This book is for middle-graders — ten to twelve year olds. Parents and teachers will decide whether their child is ready. A long time ago I was a fifth-grade teacher and, as I read this book, I thought about those fifth-graders. I could see their faces, particularly their eyes, change as they listened. How much fun it would be to listen to this story together as a group. I’m sure this idea is not original with me. I believe there are many classrooms already doing this. Wouldn’t you love to be a part of that?
If you haven’t already, do read this book. To double your pleasure, let Neil Gaiman read it to you.