This is my first post for a new category – Currently Reading. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been ever so slowly reading two books, one of which is The Graveyard Book.
This category may have spoilers. You have been warned! (But I will try to keep them to a minimum.)
The Graveyard Book (2008) is written by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean. For those of you who don’t know, Neil Gaiman is a New York Times bestselling author of comic books, novels and graphic novels, and has won many awards for his writing, such as the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award. Some of his other works include Stardust and The Sandman. The book I am currently reading is a winner of the John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children.
I was surprised to learn that Neil Gaiman is actually the author of quite a few children’s books. Besides The Graveyard Book, the only one I was aware of was Coraline. Some of the others are M is for Magic, Interworld, and Wolves in the Walls.
I have the hardcover edition of The Graveyard Book, which stands at a page count of 312. The description of the book from Neil Gaiman’s own webpage is as follows: “Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place – he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their timely ghostly teachings-like the ability to Fade. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead?”
So far, I have read the first two chapters – “How Nobody Came to the Graveyard” and “The New Friend”.
My first impression was shock at the violence of a book that is categorized as Middle-Grade. Without giving away too much, the story is set up with a grisly murder that a toddler narrowly escapes. (The murder is more insinuated than described). He wanders off and finds refuge in a cemetery where he is protected by ghosts. The illustrations so far compliment the creepy vibe of the book.
Anybody who is a writer or a book lover knows how important the first line of any book is. It sets the tone for the entire story and it can grab the reader’s attention so they just have to keep reading. Two of the most famous first lines?
1) “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
2) “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
These are of course from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These first lines are so great and so characterize the book they open for, that most people will recognize and identify the origin immediately.
As first lines go, The Graveyard Book does just what it’s supposed to do, and is a good example of the importance of opening lines. “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” This opening line tells me a lot. It tells me, that this is no ordinary children’s book, that this story is going to be tad disturbing, that it most likely begins at night, and that it’s a violent act that has spawned whatever comes next. The opening line sets the tone of the book: dark and chilling.
The word choices in the first chapter conjure appropriately violent imagery: sliced, slithered, silent, hunt. The perpetrator set against the setting of the crime scene creates a very wrong sense.
“The man Jack sniffed the air. He ignored the scents that had come into the room with him, dismissed the scents that he could safely ignore, honed in on the smell of the thing he had come to find. He could smell the child: a milky smell, like chocolate chip cookies, and the sour tang of a wet, disposable, nighttime diaper. He could smell the baby shampoo in its hair, and something small and rubbery – a toy, he thought, and then, no, something to suck – that the child had been carrying.” (Pg 9)
I found this particularly unsettling. There’s a sense that this man obviously does not belong there, that he isn’t quite right. That something terrible has happened. That something even worse is to come. It creates a feeling of uneasiness.
Throughout the first two chapters, especially while spending time inside the villain’s head, I found myself searching for some sign that this man wasn’t completely evil, that there was some saving grace, but there was none to be found. No comfort that he’s not entirely bad. At least not yet.
So the toddler wanders off and ends up in a graveyard where he encounters ghosts who, after some deliberation, decide to be his guardians. The ghosts are sympathetic characters, and you really get the sense that this toddler is in safe hands, despite being in a cemetery. They re-named him Nobody Owens (Bod for short) for his own safety.
The story is told unconventionally so, from multiple viewpoints. Neil Gaiman does, what some writer-types might even call head-hopping. He breaks the rules, but it works.
The characters have been given life, and I find myself wanting to know more about one character in particular: Silas. Silas has the freedom of the graveyard but is able to go out into the real world in order to buy Bod the necessities he needs to live. He is between worlds, not living or dead, and I’m wondering if he is actually a vampire.
There is a welcome introduction of a human little girl, in Chapter Two “The New Friend”. Her name is Scarlett and she believes Bod to be her imaginary friend, at least for a time.
I’m not going to go over every scene in the book, but so far, I am quite intrigued. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the story. It’s darker than expected, but when I think about it, I read some pretty disturbing books in my childhood, books that I found right in my very own school library.
And look how I turned out.
Okay, so before you run off to have the book banned from elementary schools everywhere, any thoughts to share on The Graveyard Book?
Is it too violent for the intended age group, or does it even matter?