Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And the Newbery Goes To ... A Most Unlikely Candidate

I never figured Neil Gaiman for a Newbery Medal winner. Apparently, neither did he. I just read an article in which he says:

I am so wonderfully befuddled. I never really thought of myself as a Newbery winner. It's such a very establishment kind of award, in the right kind of way, with the world of librarians pointing at the book saying, 'This is worthy of the ages.' And I'm so very used to working in, and enjoying working in, essentially the gutter.

However unexpected, the award is certainly deserved. Gaiman's The Graveyard Book stands as one of the most inventive, delightful books I've ever read. Aw, what the heck? I'm going to come right out and say it: This book is fabulous. Stop reading this review. Grab your keys. Hop in your car and head to the nearest bookstore. Don't waste time on library waiting lists. You want a copy of this book, and you want it now. What are you still doing here? I'm not kidding. Get thee to the closest bookseller and purchase this book. You will not regret it.

Okay, now that I'm talking to myself, let's rehash the story: One black night, a shadowy man kills three members of a family while they sleep (yes, this year's Newbery winner starts with a triple murder). His hunt for the last member - an 18-month-old baby - proves unsuccessful, as the child has tottered out the back door. Unaware of the tragedy that has befallen him, or the shadowy man who tracks him, the toddler climbs a nearby hill, seeking adventure. At the top of the hill sits an old graveyard, the residents of which are startled to discover a live baby in their midst. Sensing danger, a kindly ghost snatches up the child, vowing to protect him. The boy is granted Freedom of the Graveyard, which gives him invisibility from the living and protection among the dead. His new mother names him Nobody Owens, and proceeds to nurture him the best she knows how. With the help of Silas, a creature who dwells on the border between life and death, the graveyard ghosts raise "Bod," teaching him history (from firsthand accounts), manners (which haven't changed all that much through the centuries), ghostly tricks (Fading, Dreamwalking and Haunting) and language (everyone should know how to call for help in the tongue of the ghouls).

When Bod meets Scarlett, a living girl about his age who is playing in the graveyard, he feels alive for the first time. When she moves away, he is devastated. Desperate for some more interaction with his own kind, Bod begs Silas for permission to attend the neighborhood school. Knowing the man who killed Bod's family is still at large, Silas reluctantly agrees, but warns Bod to keep a very low profile. It's not long, however, before he is standing up to the school bullies, drawing more attention to himself than is wise. His bravery gets him into a fat lot of trouble - soon, it's back to solitary confinement in the graveyard.

Six years later, after isolating himself from all living creatures, Bod detects a familiar face in the cemetery. Although he's sworn off interaction with the living for good, he's immediately drawn to this grown-up Scarlett. The more time they spend together, the more questions she asks - suddenly, Bod is as curious about himself as she is. How did he get to be in the cemetery? Who were his real parents? And why is a dark, shadowy man trying to kill him? Finding the answers will put Bod and everyone he loves at risk - but he has to know who he really is. Most of all, he has to exact revenge on the monster who stole his family. Bod's not afraid to die, but now that his life is in real danger, there's only one thing he wants - to live. What will become of this remarkable boy?

If you followed my advice, you may already know how The Graveyard Book ends. If you didn't, then what are you waiting for? Trust me - you don't want to miss this most unlikely Newbery winner. A fun, family-friendly tale from the master of all things macabre - really, what more can a reader ask for? Nothing. So get off the computer and stick your nose in this book. It's so good, it's spooky :)

Grade: A+

Note: Although I designated this a clean read, it uses the "D" word at least once and it does contain a brief reference to homosexuality (Why do authors ruin a clean read with one line? I hate that.)

7 comments:

  1. Do you have a copy of this book that I can borrow? I watched an online interview of Gaiman this week. He said that this book was 20 years in the making and influenced greatly by "The Jungle Book" and a time in early parenthood when they lived very close to a graveyard. I find such information fascinating.

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  2. Yep, I do have this book. I'll get it to you soon. I heard about how the book came about - very interesting.

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  3. Great review! This book is going on my list.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  4. Argh! My library doesn't even have this book! Yet. I've already chastised them (and sent them the link to your review), so hopefully they'll repent soon. :)

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  5. So excited to read this one! You seriously do awesome reviews!!

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  6. I love this book, and I was so excited to see Neil Gaiman win the Newberry this year!! Incredible.

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  7. I can't wait to read this one. I'm 9th on the list at the library but I've heard so much about how great it is I might just have to buy it.

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