Friday, May 22, 2009

The Newest Newbery: Not Just for Kids!

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book recently won the American Library Association's annual Newbery Medal, an award given to the year's most accomplished writing for children (children are defined as age 12 and younger). I absolutely loved Coraline, also written by Gaiman, for its slightly twisted take on the common childhood wish to have new parents, so I was excited to read this newest, bizarrely-titled children's book.
The novel begins with a man holding a bloody knife that had just been used to murder a family, searching for the family's youngest child. The child, a little boy, had crawled out of his crib and was toddling out the open door at the time of the murders, so he had been fortunate to have escaped his family's tragic fate. Right. Not exactly a traditional children's book opener. The child toddles out the door and ends up walking into a nearby graveyard, where he is found by the resident ghosts. The murderer follows the boy to the graveyard, but is misdirected by the ghosts, who have decided to keep the boy in their protection. After much discussion by the graveyard ghosts, the boy is adopted by a childless spirit couple and named Nobody Owens, or "Bod" for short. Bod spends his childhood in the company of the colorful characters from a variety of historical periods whose bodies had been buried in the cemetery; the host of haunts include a girl who had been burned as a witch, an oafish bully, his own elderly parents, and a variety of other local citizens. He is also under the special watch of his guardian Silas, a man who is not quite dead, but is also not fully human.
As Bod grows older, more of the special nuances of death are revealed, including the horrifying world of ghouls and a bizarre, ancient order of particularly evil entities.
I LOVED this book. I'm not entirely sure to whom I would recommend it, however, which sounds strange after I just said how much I loved it. I think I would recommend it for high schoolers for sure, but they would have to be able to appreciate it for its unique vocabulary and characters, the creativity of the story, and the brilliant weaving of familiar concepts into the fabric of something so totally original. It's certainly not your typical "high school" book. Nor, however, is it your typical children's book. If I were to recommend it to a child, it would have to be for a child who is not disturbed by the idea of ghosts and by the sometimes gruesome descriptions of violent death. I think that I as a child would have liked this book, since I've always loved ghost stories, but it might be too troubling for a gentler soul. Not that my soul isn't gentle, but you know what I mean.
SO. Loved the book, but recommend it with some reservations and advance notifications, and am giving it 4 out of 4 Bananas!

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