With the film adaptation of his young adult novel Coraline now in theaters, it’s worthwhile to glance at Neil Gaiman’s newest book for a younger audience, The Graveyard Book, which just picked up the coveted Newberry Medal and has been optioned for its own film treatment by director Neil Jordan.
Ostensibly a rough reworking of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book with supernatural creatures instead of animals as foster parents, The Graveyard Book is the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens, the sole survivor of an attack on his family who finds himself wandering into a nearby graveyard as an infant and coming under the protection of the ghosts and other mysterious beings within. Meanwhile, his family’s killer continues searching for Bod as he grows older and learns unconventional yet timeless lessons from his eccentric and mostly undead teachers.
Like Coraline, The Graveyard Book works on levels appealing for both adults and children. While kids see an adventure story with a fun cast of off-the-grid characters, adults can appreciate a bittersweet parable about the joy and pain of growing up. Gaiman has always been applauded for his ability to spook or unsettle his readers, but his deft and subtle use of humor is well-utilized here to leaven some frightening moments.
Gaiman has never written a bad book and seemingly moves between screenplays, comic books, adult novels, and children’s novels with unfettered ease. His next announced book, after a couple of issues of Batman now hitting the stands (Gaiman has only rarely worked in the superhero genre), is a nonfiction volume about China. Go ahead and buy in, because pretty soon everything this guy has written will be a movie, so wouldn’t you rather read the book first?