The Graveyard Book: 05/10/09
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (with illustrations by Dave McKean) won the Middle Grade Cybils in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category. It's the story of Nobody Owens who is adopted by the "residents" of the next door cemetery when his family is brutally murdered.
Unlike so many recent orphan stories, Bod, as he's known by his friends and adopted family, is a well loved and happy child. His childhood may be unconventional and his schooling spotty by modern standards but he is still a happy and well adjusted child.
At the back of the book Gaiman describes the history behind The Graveyard Book. He points first and foremost to The Jungle Book and yes, it does share many similarities with the two volumes that make up Kipling's best known work. There's the young boy raised by an unlikely family (ghosts and other creatures of the night instead of the animals of India), an assassin disguised as a friend (Shere Kahn vs. Jay Frost), becoming one of the group (by seeing the elephants dance vs. the danse macabre) and so forth.
If you haven't read The Jungle Book you can still enjoy The Graveyard Book. The story is engaging, charming while being creepy and sometimes down right frightening. Key points in the novel are brought to life with Dave McKean's illustrations. There is a portrait of Bod on page 294 at the start of the final chapter that is very close to the author photograph at the back of the book. Gaiman says the story was inspired by his son Mike when he was two (although it took him twenty some years to finish the book!) but it seems that there's a lot of Neil in all his male leads.
Finally, if you do read the book (and I hope you do!), take the time to read the Acknowledgments on pages 311-2. I love it when authors share the methods and stories behind their finished works. Besides learning about the connection between The Jungle Book and The Graveyard Book, you will learn about the people who inspired the book and the others who helped in any number of ways. I did not expect to see (but was delighted to) Audrey Niffenegger and Moby among the long list of friends who helped.
Other posts and reviews
books | scifi | Neil Gaiman | Dave McKean | 2008