Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my LOCUS Y-A list.
I think I’ll always have a soft-spot for imaginative young-adult speculative fiction and as the good people at Locus did such a grand job with picking their Sci-Fi winners, I’ll trust them to single out some special y-a books too.
There were some complications when my son, Fin, was born which meant Mum and baby needed to stay in hospital for a week after the birth. During that time, both did a lot of sleeping. There was no chance I was going to leave them - and there's only so many crosswords, sudoku and logic puzzles you can do. The Graveyard Book was there to keep me sane.
In my world, Gaiman is one of the heavy-hitters. He rarely puts a step wrong - from his Sandman comics, through Good Omens (his collaboration with Pratchett), the epic American Gods and the quite brilliant Neverwhere, his movie script for Mirror Mask - the books (and films) Coraline and Stardust - the man simply excels at whatever form of storytelling he turns his hand to.
If my expectations weren't already pumped enough, The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Hugo Award ahead of Neal Stephenson's Anathem. If that name means nothing to you, Anathem is one of my all-time favourite books (to the extent that I named a cat after it's protagonist), so to learn that a panel of literary judges had decided that Gaiman's young-adult fantasy retelling of The Jungle Book was even better... my mind was blown.
It's a good book. It's a very good book. I just didn't love it as much as I expected.
It's easy to point at all the wonderful elements - the overall concept, the rich and varied characters which populate this world, the eccentric little funny moments ("why are you carrying the pig?", "for luck!"), the dreamy but complex tone, the bittersweet ending, etc.
It's been much harder (for me) to figure out what was missing.
I think part of it was the antagonist, Jack. True to the Jungle Book inspiration it's an episodic tale - which limits Jack's influence to the beginning and the end. His entrance at the beginning is perfect - but the unveiling of who exactly the antagonist(s) is and the following climax was the only specific thing I can point at and say "dissa! dissa!" (That's a pun by the way - point at and say 'dissa' = disa-ppointing, get it? *sigh* I can but try...)
I thought the identity of The Jacks a little disjointed. Gaiman's Graveyard world is full of ghosts, witches, vampires, warewolves, ghouls and mummies, etc - classic 'halloween' characters - all spun in a new and interesting direction. The Jacks do not fit this template... their secret society seemed more like something from one of Fforde's Nursery Crime books. It's a fun idea, but I felt it jarred in this scenario.
My next complaint may be a little more controversial for fans of the book. I thought Bod himself was little bit... forgettable. Gaiman often uses an ordinary 'everyman' character as his portal to a fantastic world, and Nobody Jones fits the bill. He is a nice, pleasant kid with perfectly understandable, reasonable desires. But he himself is not the show stopper. I know it's a lot to ask, but I'm picturing the same The Graveyard Book but with a Naruto-eque kid front and center... and it's better! In my head it's definitely better!
Aside from those couple of small gripes, this is a solid 4-star, give it to your kids, read it every year, love it, treasure it, modern classic.
Apparently the film will be a stop-motion, directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) - so that's definitely one to get excited about!
After this I read: Quicksilver