Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review - The Graveyard Book

When I came across The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman it sounded so, so good! Just read this premise and tell me if it isn't right up my alley!

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

This is a story about a boy raised by ghosts! Ghosts! It's The Jungle Book meets Casper! Right? Right?

I wanted to love this book--I really did. But I just couldn't. It's a shame because the dark topic interests me, and the characters were sympathetic. The main character Bod--short for Nobody--Owens is a smart and likable child and as a reader you really care for him. His undead guardian, Silas, is a delicious mystery who quietly dominates every page he's on.

I think my main issue with The Graveyard Book is that I expected a continuous story about how Bod Owens grows up amidst ghosts and other supernatural creatures. Instead, each chapter jumps ahead several years in his life. Each one reads as its own short story, a more or less closed off adventure, and that made the whole book feel disconnected. I know Gaiman was taking a The Jungle Book approach to this story, but it just didn't work for me.

I guess I should've known better, since I read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book several times when I was a teen. Even so, I think The Graveyard Book initially promised something more linear due to how the story is presented in the first chapter: readers are given a terrible crime, a bloodthirsty villain, an innocent victim and a slew of ghosts to protect him. It felt like the perfect setup for one continuous adventure. Instead, we read one chapter focused on how he makes a living friend. Another focuses on how he is kidnapped by goblins. Another focuses on him going to school with the living... In the end, he always returns to the graveyard and to his dead companions, so each chapter has very little impact.

On a positive note, the best moments for me are, without a doubt, when Bod interacts with other living people. In those scenes, you can see how much of an impact life among the dead has had on the boy. The ghosts teach him certain otherworldly abilities, such as fading, and he uses these to his advantage when he's in danger. Perhaps my favorite story is when he attempts to go to a normal school (aka "for the living") and encounters a bully. The way Bod quietly solves his problems is admirable.

There are other bigger and much more dangerous problems Bod cannot solve on his own, and here his guardian Silas takes over--or others such as the witch Liza or the teacher Miss Lupescu.

However, I have a couple issues with this. At the beginning of the book, the ghosts Mr and Mrs Owens adopt Bod. The cemetery dwellers assign Silas as Bod's guardian because Silas is the only one who can step out into the human world (in order to bring Bod food, clothing, etc.). So what do the Owens do during the entire book? Not much, really. Except for the first chapter, they rarely appear, rarely interact with Bod, and are rarely mentioned. I ended up wondering if it wouldn't have been better to just ignore them and hand Bod over to Silas.

My second issue involving Bod's caretakers occurs near the end of the book. Silas and Miss Lupescu go on a quest to defeat the main evil-doers in the story. This part of the plot was so rushed and so glossed over that the significance of events was lost to me. In my opinion, the events involving these two characters--events which lead up to the final battle--could have been shown more clearly so as not to confuse readers.

The ending is highly predictable and the final battle is filled with clichés that I won't begin to list. Let me just point out that the worst cliché, in my opinion, is when the super villainous villain has the upper hand and is about to off our hero, but before going in for the fatal blow he decides to waste time revealing every single important plot point and evil plan to the hero who, once he has all the information, in one fell swoop vanquishes the evil-doer.

I really hate that cliché.

As with Coraline, also by Neil Gaiman, the ending to The Graveyard Book felt rushed in comparison to the rest of the book. I was expecting so much more. It physically pains me. This could have been so great. It had so much potential! Unfortunately, The Graveyard Book gets two and a half Pirates.

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