Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

I first encountered Neil Gaiman's work a few years back, when I stumbled upon a video of his Blueberry Girl book. I loved his voice. I loved the beauty of his turned phrases. I loved the images he stirred. So, when I saw Neil Gaiman's Newbery Award winning book, The Graveyard Book, available at the library in audio book form, I snatched it up.

I made a regrettable mistake when I decided to listen to it during a ride with Trevor to his wrestling practice. As the first ten minutes played, in Gaiman's lovable British accent, it didn't really seem like Trevor was paying attention. I did hesitate, wondering if I should turn it off, but in the end, I let it run until we arrived at his practice.

Trevor has always been fixated on things associated with Halloween. He is not afraid in the slightest of vampires and ghouls and skulls and gargoyles. But, I am realizing now that he clearly understands the distinction that these things are fictional. What he heard brought fears of a different kind because the actions were real and terrifying. I have paid for that dearly. Ever since that night, Trevor has been praying for God to keep us very, very, very, very safe at night and wakens routinely with fears that robbers are breaking in. This book is not for small children (although I noticed on-line that there are elementary school children who have created trailers and done reports on the book).

Really, it was an excellent book for a grown up and even probably for a middle school child. But that beginning happened to be toxic for my six year old child and I regret exposing him to it.

The book tells the story of a small boy who toddles out of his crib, down the stairs and out of his house while an intruder is killing off his family. The boy wanders into a graveyard up the hill and the spirit of his mother pleads with the spirits within the graveyard to protect her son from the man, Jack ... the man with the knife, who is intent upon finding the small boy. The graveyard spirits agree and Mr. and Mrs. Owens, who had never been able to have children in life, give the lad the name Nobody. Nobody Owens, "Bod" for short, is given free reign within the graveyard and even taught helpful things like how to fade and slip through the bars.

For a while, Bod's life is pleasant enough. Everyone in the graveyard (usually noted by their full inscriptions on their headstones, which was quite comical) embrace Bod's presence there and become a sort of family to him. His guardian, Silas, engages tutors to teach him until he becomes old enough to beg to go to the outside world and attend real school.

Silas knows that real school will bring dangers that he may not be able to protect Bod from, but Bod is insistent. He wants to be among his own kind ... the living. Sadly, Silas' warnings bear merit because the man, Jack, is still on the lookout for the boy.

At times, it felt like the story was, indeed, too dark, too full of the evil, twisted stuff of death. But, the longer I listened the more I wanted to know how Bod would make the transition from being among the dead to being among the living (ah, that is the hook, the unexpected twist, which makes this story out of the ordinary and enticing to consider).

The end of the story was quite triumphant, really. It was so utterly affirming of life and of the desire to get out there and live and have experiences and face the dangers that living can bring. In the end, Bod became a part of my internal landscape and a character I will never forget.

I have heard that they are making the book into a movie. I'm not sure how I feel about that. If my own son, whose psyche I didn't initially predict to be too sensitive for such a tale, ended up scarred from the first ten minutes, what could viewing this scene do to smaller children who might be brought into a theater unaware of what images will be portrayed? Can they tell the tale without portraying the beastly murders that orphaned poor Bod and provide the framework for the story? Will they provide a disclaimer warning parents of small children that the images might linger and haunt these impressionable minds?

At the same time, I heartily recommend the book. It was a masterful example of storytelling at its very best. I found the cause of pursuit of Bod to be a bit flimsy, but the tale was riveting and entertaining. And as for the audio version ... well, you can never beat a fabulous British accent, can you?

Here is a trailer Neil Gaiman did for the book which conveys quite succinctly the message and spirit of the book.


Amy Sorensen said...

I have a serious thing for Neil Gaiman. In one of my reoccuring dreams I'm reading Blueberry Girl to my little daughter (the one I didn't have), which is fairly strange! I'm not sure how I feel about GYB being turned into a movie, either. I can see the potential but...sometimes I wish they'd just leave things in books, where you can imagine them the way YOU want to, you know?

Wendy said...

Yes, Amy - I was just telling my mother that I noticed the person they chose to play Mma Ramotswe from the Number One Ladies Detective Agency books and she doesn't look like the Mma Ramotswe of my mind.