Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won the The Newberry Award in 2008. I've always wondered why. I do not question his brilliance in crafting stories. I've read enough of Gaiman's work that I consider his novels, graphic and print, too edgy for the Newberry crowd.
But the Newberry jury has realized, somehow, that the young adult readers of this day and age are more risque in choice of reading materials. I say this as a hypothesis from reading winners of years past. I'm not complaining. Just wondering.
Finally, after two years of waiting, I bought a copy from my hard earned dough and understood why. The Graveyard Book is classic Gaiman- grim and macabre. Yet, it bespeaks of life blossoming. Ironic, huh? That's Gaiman. And his handling of contradictions work.
The novel begins with a mystery and ends with a mystery.
A baby, to be named as Nobody Owens later on, is the sole survivor from man Jack's slaughter of his family. He was adopted by ghosts in the town graveyard and was given a guardian. For sixteen years, he lived among the dead and learned their ways. At the given time, he learned of his real identity and set forth into the world to discover life among the living.
Gaiman's world building is exceptional. In his book, the graveyard residents have their own laws and culture. He placed Nobody Owens in the middle of all these and the reader is treated to profound commentaries on life, love and loss. Written in a very simple manner that early teens could easily read, his depiction of the dead and their after life adventures is far from superficial. I find it very philosophical. There's depth - an indicator of what a great speculative fiction must be. For example, when Nobody "Bod" Owens insists on staying in the graveyard, one resident ghost explains that death is a completion; that he needs to face life smack in the face while breathing air; this his mission is yet to be fulfilled. Another example is the judgment made by The Grey Lady at the start of the novel - the dead must have charity. Humanity is for all. Dead or alive.
In between, Gaiman provides the reader with enough clues and cues to fill the gaps in the mystery that began in Chapter One. Silas, Bod Oswens' guardian, is a shadowy character but through Gaiman's deft description of his habits and background, one would surmise that he belongs among the undead. A vampire with compassion? Come on. Believe. Or at least suspend it. Edward Cullen has an enormous sex drive.
But these are not the reasons why I think it won the Newberry. It is a given that in every Gaiman novel, the reader is mesmerized, pushed to the limit, delighted to high heavens and plunged to sadness the next. It's Gaiman's treatment of Nobody Owens, this orphan-foundling, that cliched him the award. Nobody was given a home. He was loved. He had friends. He disobeyed and made mistakes. He was made to face the consequences of his actions and was forgiven. Nobody was characterized like your typical child growing up. At the cusp of adulthood, he is more than ready to embrace life.
What did not work
While Nobody's character is solid and the supporting ones are convincing enough for me to suspend my disbelief, I wished that there's more to Silas' Honor Guards. That's all I have to say on this part of my review. Everything worked for me from structure to troupes and the motifs that Gaiman used. It's very similar to Kipling's The Jungle Book and shades of Harry Potter color the plot. Then again, it's still a unique piece of well crafted story!
The Graveyard Book gave me a lot to think about life and death. It is very much deserving of the Newberry (conceited me, I know!). At the end of the book, I ask myself if I'm ready to put go back to Coraline and American Gods. Nah... I guess I'll save up for another year to be able to buy Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants. Coraline and American Gods have to wait.
Rating: Four Bookmarks
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