First of all, if you haven’t heard yet, Neil won the 2008 Newbery Award for this book. He had an awesome “acceptance speech” that leaked from Twitter to the rest of the world:
FUCK!!!! I won the FUCKING NEWBERY THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME.
It may not be the most appropriate thing for the winner of a young adult fiction award to say, but it is totally Neil. In fact, he has a really amusing story on his blog about receiving the call from the committee:
You are on a speakerphone with at least 14 teachers and librarians and suchlike great, wise and good people, I thought. Do not start swearing like you did when you got the Hugo. This was a wise thing to think because otherwise huge, mighty and fourletter swears were gathering. I mean, that’s what they’re for.
If for no other reason, I’m quoting that to justify swearing, because he’s absolutely right: Moments like that are why those words exist.
Anyway, my second point is that you should know by now that if you’re looking for a strictly objective review of a Neil Gaiman book, then you should stop reading now. Because while I can say that this book isn’t quite on the same level as either Stardust or Coraline, it’s still a very Gaiman story, and it still ranks among my favorite of his books. The book is essentially a loose collection of short stories based on the life of Bod (short for “Nobody”), who has been taken in to be raised by the resident ghosts of a graveyard. Why? The rest of his family was murdered, and they arranged for the rest of the ghosts to adopt and raise him shortly thereafter. Each chapter-story is centered on Bod at a different age, so we get to see how he grows up in such an environment. It’s possibly the oddest coming-of-age story I’ve read, but it works, and Gaiman is such a skilled writer that even the plainly-obvious denouement makes perfect sense.
Is it dark? Yes and no. I mean, the book starts off with a murder, and an infant crawling away from the same fate. It’s set in a graveyard, full of friendly ghosties and horrible ghoulies. The main character has the same abilities as the ghosts, but he’s still human. But after the first chapter, you accept all of these facts and fall into Bod’s world and life. It becomes just a setting, and the story takes on a life of its own. Bod struggles to be normal in a world of oddities, and isn’t that the subject of just about every YA novel?
I’m glad that Neil has won the Newbery Award. The stories he writes, which are typically full of mythology, legends, and fairy tales, are the perfect subject for young-adult fiction, and a lot of the popular YA stories are fantasies, anyway. I would have been extremely stoked had he won it for Coraline (which I find to be an immensely better novel than The Graveyard Book, as much as I like them both), but if you’re going to award it to a young-adult fantasy writer, then Neil Gaiman is a good place to start.