Thursday, January 21, 2010

From its opening line to its final word, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a delight.

Whether he's writing for children (The Wolves in the Wall), young adults (The Graveyard Book), adults (American Gods) or some audience in between (The Sandman), Gaiman seems to strike some deep chord in all of us that responds to the mythic, the mysterious, the macabre. Gaiman is the Edgar Allan Poe of our times.

Consider that The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Hugo and Newbery Awards as well as a Locus Award for best young adult novel. The Hugo and the Newbery? When's the last time that happened? It's a measure of Gaiman's broad appeal and should reassure adults put off by the thought of reading a YA novel. Don't. You will only miss a terrific read.

The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody Owens. Bod (Nobody for short) is only a toddler when his family is brutally murdered. He's finds refuse in a graveyard where he is given the "Freedom of the Graveyard" by its ghostly inhabitants, who agree to raise him.

Bod experiences a couple of adventures en route to solving his family's murder. Those adventures are great fun, but what lifts the book far above the ordinary is how Bod -- who lives in a graveyard among the dead -- comes to embrace life and living.

"I want to see life," he tells Silas one of his protectors. "I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want . . . I want everything."

As for the book's opening line. It goes like this: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife."

Try to stop reading after that line. Just try. To read Neil Gaiman is to understand that there's a reason magic spells are cast with words.

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