This book was a bit of a connundrum to me. At times, I felt myself feeling like maybe I didn't really like it and at other times I felt like this could be a favorite book. I definitely flip-flopped back and forth. Even the segments that "weren't a favorite" were interesting elements to the story and provided great added detail.
The book starts out with a very intriguing and engaging "hook" to draw you right in. As mentioned in the summary, the book is about a young child living in a graveyard after the murder of his family...the first chapter of the book is about that murder and how the baby boy escaped the same fate as the rest of his family. The boy is named "Nobody" and called Bod. As the book goes on, we learn along with Bod the various intricacies of "life" in the graveyard and how to interact with the other supernatural beings there.
The overarching plot of the story has to do with the murder of Bod's family and solving that mystery and confronting the murderer. But each chapter of the book has its own set of mini-adventures as Bod deals with different trials and adventures that come because he's living between the world of the living and the dead. The book also puts forth a number of interesting ideas about what it really means to be alive and the ways different people interact with each other and see the world.
By the end of the book, I really loved it. I thought the story was very engaging. The writing was very vibrant and enticing. The characters were interesting. The small adventures were fun. And the overall mystery was rather intriguing. I especially liked the way knowledge and details came to the reader piecemeal in the same way and at the same pace that Bod was learning about things. It left a lot of gray area to ponder.
Thinking back over the book I had a hard time picking out the segments that I had been "iffy" about when first reading. Everything fit together nicely like a very cool jigsaw puzzle that may have areas that are frustrating or "less fun" when trying to piece them together but when the overall picture is finished, every little area is vital and very fulfilling.
One thing that was VERY interesting to me came as I read the author acknowledgements in the back of the book (yes, I read those). Gaiman's first mention was his gratitude to Rudyard Kipling for The Jungle Books. I suddenly felt like a dunce...being an English major who read the Jungle Books only a couple of years ago and even discussed them in a college class. I couldn't believe I'd missed the connection. As I went back and thought through each book, I was stunned at the parallels between the Graveyard Book and the Jungle Books. I certainly wouldn't call this book a "retelling" of the Jungle Books, but there are many direct similarities as well as a lot of peripheral comparisons. If you've read the Jungle Books (not just 'watched' the Disney movie), you should think about it while reading...or at least after reading.
This book won a Newbery Award which is a reward for distinguished American literature for Children. While I certainly think it's worthy of the award, I'm a little nervous about how appropriate this book would be for younger children. Most of the time, it's not too over-the-top scary or terrible, but there are some moments where the story is a bit grisly and I'd be worried giving it to anybody under ten years old. Still, I think a ten year old definitely qualifies as a child and thus warrants this being a Newbery recipient.
Overall, I really did like this book. It was an intriguing, thoughtful mystery-adventure with a lot of good fun and moments of psychological/human analysis. It has some nice "life lessons" about how we need to make the most of our lives, set goals and work to achieve them, strive to build good relationships with other people. As an English major, I'm very interested to re-read this book alongside the Jungle Books to explore similarities. Maybe that will be a class assignment once I finally start teaching English. ;)
Give it a try and let me know what you think.
4 out of 5 stars
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