The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
Plot Summary: A boy with the peculiar name Bod (short for Nobody Owens) has been orphaned. When he was only a baby, a mysterious man named Jack murdered Bod's parents. Now homeless, Bod finds home and comfort in an unconventional place: a graveyard. Various denizens of the night inhabit this graveyard, including but not limited to vampires, witches, ghosts, and werewolves. They all take part in raising Bod together. However, only part human and part inhuman guardian Silas truly understands Bod's needs for food, shelter, and companionship. Meanwhile, the mysterious man named Jack is alive and active, even going to a convention attended by those who do nefarious deeds. It seems inevitable that his path will cross with Bod again.
Critical Evaluation: This post is relatively biased, given my high opinion of Neil Gaiman's work. He won me over with his superb Sandman graphic novel series and American Gods, both clever forays into mythology and urban fantasy.
The Graveyard Book, whose inspiration came from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, is more playful in tone than Gaiman's other works. Despite disturbing images such as the man known as Jack silently creeping up the stairs on his way to murder Bod's parents, The Graveyard Book exudes an almost fairy tale or fable-like tone, similar to its inspiration. Even though Bod must live out his childhood in a graveyard with creatures who would terrify the average child, Gaiman makes sure to let the reader know that these creatures are benign and wise.
My only criticism of The Graveyard Book is that Bod is a rather dull character. He is the blank slate through whom we meet these new and interesting characters, our pathfinder through a new world. This would not be a major criticism of mine if Gaiman did not use this method all too often. Richard Mayhew from Neverwhere was a similar dull blank slate and Shadow from American Gods was essentially a silent protagonist. While Gaiman excels at giving secondary characters life, his protagonists often lack charisma or excitement.
Reader's Annotation: He may have a strange name, but Bod has an even stranger place he calls home: a graveyard.
Author Information: Gaiman is a bit of a Renaissance man. In addition to young adult literature, he's written picture books, juvenile books, adult books, and comic books. He's even written a few screenplays: one for Beowulf with Anthony Hopkins and a few for BBC's Dr. Who series. He is married to the Dresden Dolls' (self-described as vaudeville punk) lead singer Amanda Palmer.
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Horror
Curriculum Ties: A compare and contrast between this and The Jungle Book could help students understand cultural differences between now and then. In addition, it could spark an assignment in which a student is given the task of rewriting a book by which he or she is inspired.
Booktalking Ideas: same as above, compare and contrast to Kipling's work.
If they are nurturing and loving, is being raised by wolves, ghosts, or anything really just as good as being raised by human parents?
Reading level/interest age: Ages 12-15
Challenge Issues: violence, scary images
Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.
Why I included this title: I have a rampant obsession with Neil Gaiman books so I had read this a little while back. This was also a recent Hugo award winner, and I often try to at least familiarize myself with Hugo and Nebula award winners as a fan of science fiction. I think teens would enjoy Gaiman's playful and easy-to-read writing style.