Beautiful and bittersweet, a book to be enjoyed by both the young and the young at heart.
A man named Jack comes to a family's house and murders the mom, the dad, and the sister. But the baby boy eludes his knife's blade. Instead the boy wanders to a nearby graveyard where the denizens quickly adopt him and name him Nobody Owens. Nobody grows up in the graveyard and learns of the dangers of the Living and the Dead - and that some things must always change.
Once upon a time, I was a young child, and my mom read to me "The Pink Motel". I absolutely adored it. I loved the family leaving the wintery cold of Minnesota for the aunt's motel in Florida. I love the quirky people leaving in the motel rooms. I loved the adventures the children went on. And I even loved the feeling of dismay and sadness when I reached the end and realized that the book was over.
"The Graveyard Book" reminds me of all those wonderful, bittersweet memories of childhood. But more than just an adventure, it's a coming of age - Bod slowly ages as the book progresses. If I were 10 and reading this, I probably wouldn't appreciate it. I wouldn't appreciate how the tone shifts and how the story moves away from strict adventure and I definitely wouldn't like the last, heart-rending chapter.
But that's the wonderful thing about being an adult - what I wouldn't appreciate as a child, I can understand as an adult. I've lived through that change - going from a wild-eyed child to a questioning teen to an adult. I've lived summers where I knew that I would never experience life as pure and as unfettered as it was in that moment. I've seen my childhood slip away as I slowly took up the mantle of adulthood. It was painful and sad; many tears were shed, but it is life, pure and simple.
I suppose, though, I should stop waxing sentimental about my childhood and actually talk about the book. Neil Gaiman is quickly rising in the ranks of my internal "Favorite Authors" list. He's a magnificent storyteller, a real modern fairytale writer. This book was so compelling and REAL, for all its fantasy. The characters were great; the writing absolutely superb (NOTE: Authors, stop writing all this first person present minimalist crap and actually bother to put some art and class in your work); there even was quite a bit of humor. And of course, we get a great coming of age story.
More importantly, this book avoids all the pitfalls and things I've come to hate about Young Adult fiction. There's no romance whatsoever (well, I suppose Scarlett's mom and Mr. Frost attempt a romance, but since it's tertiary characters, I think it gets a pass). Bod actually cares about people other than his love interest (of course, he doesn't have one, so duh). The world-building makes sense. The story is consistent. The writing doesn't make me want to vomit unicorn farts.
I know with all these glowing words you are wondering why I didn't rate this 5 stars. The fact is, it probably deserves it, but I personally feel like something was missing in it. Maybe I should have read this as a child. Maybe some of the circumstances were too zany. Maybe it's because I took so long to finish it. Whatever the case, know that just because it's not a full 5 stars does NOT mean it is a lesser book; I know I'm giving this my heartiest recommendation.
If you want to relive your childhood, if you are young at heart, or if you are just plain sick and tired of all books for young people being stupid and centered on a bad romance, this is your book. Gaiman is a master at his craft; he creates atmosphere and amazing characters and threads in a beautiful story. My only regret is that it took me so long to discover such a talented author.