Originally reviewed here
.Why I Read It:
I really enjoy most of Gaiman's work. I love love LOVE his Sandman
graphic novel series, but then I was on the fence about American Gods
(which is odd, because it seems to me to be one of his most beloved works.) Anyway, this book has quite a few accolades, one of them being the Newberry, which is kind of like the Oscar of middle grade novels, so my curiosity was piqued. Then my brother bought the book about a year ago and I finally decided to pick it up now.
So, I have to say that the format of this novel kind of threw me off. I didn't know it was a bunch of short stories strewn together to form one large narrative arc. This threw for a loop (which it shouldn't have really, considering that's how Sandman
worked), but it didn't deter my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. However, as is the case with any short story collection, some stories (so in this case, chapters) charmed me more than others.
For example, I absolutely loved the chapter about the Danse Macabre. That chapter was just.. I don't even know. I can't put it into words because it encapsulates all the magic that Gaiman is capable of and is what I love about him.
But if I'm going to be perfectly honest, this is probably the only chapter that made me feel that way. I liked most of the other ones well enough, but none of them grabbed me like that one did. While the Danse Macabre is still perfectly clear in my mind, the rest of the chapters are kind of muddled. And it's not that any of them were BAD. It's just that I loved that one chapter so much that everything else kind of paled in comparison. I'll try to talk about other elements of the novel that I liked and didn't like though, instead of focusing this review on comparing the entire book to a single chapter.
I loved the atmosphere of the novel. It's pretty obvious that Gaiman is trying to invoke Kipling in this novel, but instead of having Mowgli be raised by animals in the jungle, we have Nobody Owens being raised by ghosts in the graveyard. Gaiman somehow managed to make the graveyard be the creepy, dank, ominous place that most of us conceive it as, but also made it feel comforting and homey, like it feels for Bod. It was a strange combination, but it worked for me. It lead to the most head-on tackling of death that I've ever seen in a middle grade novel (though very close to Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson, but she goes about it in a completely different manner.)
I have to say though, that the tone of the novel never FELT very middle grade. I honestly think this could have been published as a novella and shelved in the "adult" section of any book store and it would be seen as such. My memory is a little fuzzy, but the writing style IS simple enough for younger kids to read, but I don't think that age group would grasp the subtleties that the text offers. But I guess that's the best kind of kid's book, right? The ones that can be enjoyed by adults too, and have different readings when you re-read them at different ages? I'm still really curious how 9-12 year olds would react to this book.
Something that niggled at me though was the nature of man who killed Bod's real family. I don't want to talk about it too much because then we'll be entering spoiler territory, but there was something about it that kind of let me down. It was all very Gaiman-esque, but it didn't all tie together for me quite like I hoped it would. Again, this doesn't make it a BAD novel, but still something I think that's worth mentioning.
Oh, and one last remark: there are gorgeous black and white illustrations in this book by Dave McKean and they are AWESOME. I don't love everything McKean does (though I love MOST of it) but this is definitely good stuff. It's all super eerie and creepy and sets the mood for the chapters perfectly.Final Verdict:
While I was thrown off by the format of this novel (the overall story arc is broken down into short stories), I still found myself enjoying it quite a bit. However, due to this structure I found myself more enamoured with some chapters quite a bit more than others (one in particular really stood out). That chapter set the bar too high though, so that's not to say that the other chapters were BAD; Gaiman handled the setting of the graveyard wonderfully and I loved the atmosphere and mood of the whole thing. I'm a little bit on the fence about what age group this book is marketed to, but it doesn't really change how I feel about it one way or the other anyway. There was something about the ending that left a little be desired from me, but other than that, I thought this was a solid Gaiman novel. (It's still not as good as Sandman
though. :) )