Sunday, November 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book opens with a scene that, in the movies, would leave you holding your breath, popcorn forgotten. It only gets creepier from there, but that's not all. Gaiman is funny, too, and the world he's built for Bod is unique and mysterious. At times it feels like winter breath.

One of the best parts of reading The Graveyard Book is trying to puzzle out all the hints before the end, so I'm not going to reveal anything that's not already on the back cover. Even though an adult can figure out several of the pieces and fit them into place, kids are kept guessing. Not one of the kids in my daughters' book club fit it all together.

What I will tell you is: you'll have fun keeping track of the hints regarding both Bod's guardian and the man Jack. The Indigo Man gave me shivers. Voicing the Sleer made me feel like I was in on a deliciously surprising secret, though I had no idea what it was. The ghouls? The ghouls were great fun to read aloud, in spite of the fact that I can't maintain a fake English accent for more than a few sentences in a row. If that.

I'll also share that Bod's childhood is as normal as the inhabitants of the graveyard can make it; they take their responsibility as seriously as any parents, as any neighbors, as any teachers. Bod has playmates and lessons to fill his days. He has rules to obey. Like any kid, Bod pushes boundaries, gets into trouble, and needs help getting out again.

There is an excellent list of discussion questions LitLovers; the same list is also available on BookBrowse. With a gaggle of tweens in my living room, I try to keep the discussion no longer than thirty minutes, so I didn't use all the questions linked above, especially since several of them lead down rabbit-holes. (When is it okay to cross boundaries? What makes something or someone evil?)

Graveyard Cupcakes
(Headstones were craft foam)
One question that provoked an unexpected response was the first, about Dave McKean's illustrations. Meaning absolutely no offense to McKean, I want to share that none of the kids liked his illustrations. They agreed that the final illustration, of the Grey Lady, was the best, and that the drawing at the end of Chapter Seven made it look like the Sleer enjoyed pizza. Personally, though I can't draw anything beyond stick men and figure-eight puppies, I liked McKean's illustrations. Many of them felt as ethereal as the scenes Gaiman penned, and my favorite was at the end of Chapter Four. But then, I think I loved Liza even more than I loved Bod.

The Graveyard Book is perfect for kids looking for something creepy and fantastical. There's no gore, nothing gratuitous, but plenty of reasons to leave the hallway light on.