Saturday, April 25, 2009

'The Graveyard Book'

by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Dave McKean
Fiction/YA/Fantasy, 2008
Bloomsbury, hardback, 309 p.
Winner of the Newbery Medal, 2009
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that read danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.
I’m not as avid a Neil Gaiman fan as some other bloggers, but I’d read so many rave reviews of this book that I’d really been looking forward to reading it. Dewey even considered it her favourite of the several Neil Gaiman books that she’d read. Well, thanks to the Read-a-thon I finally sat down with it and was able to get lost in it for a few hours.
‘For good or for evil – and I firmly believe that it is for good – Mrs Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,’ said Silas, ‘take a graveyard.’
On the surface it’s the fantastical story of a boy growing up in a graveyard where he interacts with the various resident ghosts, but it’s so much more than that. Life in the graveyard is not without adventures and Bod learns some important lessons along the way. Ultimately it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that left me with tears in my eyes at the end.

My main complaint is, I have to admit, that I didn’t love the illustrations by Dave McKean. Usually I’m always thrilled when a book has illustrations and wish that more books had them, and I’ve enjoyed his illustrations in a couple other collaborations with Neil Gaiman that I’ve read, but for some reason these ones just didn’t excite me. Art is entirely subjective though and regardless, the story itself shines.

I haven’t read very many Newbery Medal winning books, so I can’t compare it to previous winners, but I certainly think this one is deserving of the recognition. Neil Gaiman truly is a fantastic storyteller.

Watch Neil reading 'The Graveyard Book'
Neil Gaiman's blog

First sentence: There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

My Rating: 4/5
(#22 for 2009, Once Upon a Time III Challenge, Book Awards II Challenge, Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, Herding Cats II Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
things mean a lot
Tip of the Iceberg
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
Nothing of Importance
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Books of Mee
Book Nut
a book a week
Stella Matutina
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Maw Books Blog
...and no doubt plenty more.
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. I'm glad you liked it! I read it last year and enjoyed it. I think I might read it again soon.

  2. The Newbery is one of my favorite awards because I've found that the books they choose are pretty consistently wonderful. I haven't read this one, yet. Our library only has one copy!!! Usually, they get several of the Newberys, though, so I'm guessing more will eventually show up.

  3. I bet this was a great book for the read-a-thon... short and quick and very absorbing!

  4. I just bought this, and an autographed copy no less. Like you, I'm not as avid a Gaiman fan as others, but I do respect his skill at writing very much.

  5. You know, of course, that I am a rabid Gaiman fan and I consider this one of his very best. I am so glad you enjoyed it. I like Dave McKean's mixed media art better, but I did enjoy this and felt it fit the story. You are definitely right, though. Art is very subjective. I am really interested in reading Jungle Book now just to see what in it inspired Gaiman in the writing of The Graveyard Book.

  6. I agree about the illustrations. I have been wanting to check out some of the other versions that have a different illustrator -- I know there's at least one different one in the UK.

  7. Vasilly - Enjoy your re-read! :)

    Nancy - I guess I just haven't really paid too much attention to children's/YA lit, other than a few famous ones that I've come across. I can't believe your library only has one copy though, especially since it won. Hopefully they will get some more in soon.

    Fyrefly - Yes, it was a good book for the read-a-thon. Definitely held my attention. :)

    Bellezza - I think Gaiman shows off his storytelling skills with this book. I hope you enjoy it!

    Carl V. - Yes, you and Chris and a few others! :)
    I agree with you about preferring Dave McKean's mixed media art. Art really is so personal, which is what makes it so wonderful when it speaks to us!
    I've never read The Jungle Book either but am curious about it now too.

    Kristen M. - The UK children's edition was illustrated by a different artist. It would be interesting to see it and compare. Maybe I'll have to see if I can find a copy in a bookstore here and flip through it.

  8. I added a link to your review on my post. I agree with you about the McKean illustrations. I really didn't care for them and actually found a few of them distracting. Too bad since illustrations can really add to some novels.

  9. The only Gaiman book I've read is Coraline so I'm still very new to his books but this is the next one I'd like to read. I've heard so many good things about it.

  10. I haven't yet read this one, but it's here somewhere. :-) I am glad you ended up enjoying this one, Nat!

  11. Did I mention once or twice how much I liked this book? And it was the first Gaiman I was able to get into :-)

  12. Terri B. - Thanks for adding the link. I'm kind of glad I'm not the only one who didn't really care for the illustrations in this one. I actually liked some of them but overall...hmm.. I totally agree with you though that illustrations can often add a lot to a story.

    Iliana - I've only read Coraline, Neverwhere and now this one, so I'm still pretty new too. Oh and one issue of Sandman. It was a pretty fun read, I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    Wendy - I have lots of books around here somewhere that I haven't read yet. :)

    Janet - Oh just a couple of times! :P
    I'm curious which other ones you tried but couldn't get into.

  13. So glad you enjoyed this, too! I'm not a fan of Gaiman, but I did like this one.

  14. Joy - I think that even though it's a fantasy, at heart it's a touching coming-of-age story that transcends the genre. :)


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