Every once in a while it's nice to read a good children's book and forget there are more important problems than whether or not you have friends or family or are being bullied in school... wait what? Ok, so maybe these are not problems kids should have, but do have nonetheless, and reading how they deal with them may help one to reflect on how one would (or has) react(ed) to these sorts of situations themselves.
Usually I read my children's books in Swedish, but this time I went for English as I bought my first very own Neil Gaiman novel, The Graveyard Book, on my visit to London. I've read other works by Gaiman before; mainly Neverwhere, a little bit of the beginning from American Gods and the Sandman graphic novel series. And I've of course seen Stardust the film sometime, although I've never gotten around to reading it as book. Anyway, The Graveyard Book is not related to any of the afore-mentioned, but is a novel in its own right. It tells the story of Nobody Owens, a child who takes refuge in an old graveyard after his family is brutally murdered. Cared after by the ghosts inhabiting the graveyard along with its mysterious protector, Silas, Bod has such problems as learning how to Fade, not getting enough books and not being allowed to leave the graveyard until in his early teens. The murder of his family is not overly touched upon in his childhood, although Silas is doing his best to sort things out for Bod's future - and towards the end of the book it is revealed that the reason Bod's family was killed was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, as Bod and his protectors do battle against an evil organisation of Jacks-of-all-trade.
The main problems I had with American Gods were that it was an audio book, and I need to have a really, very good reader, with a fantastic voice to read for me, if I'm to stay focused so long as to listen through a whole book - and that it took Place in America. The Graveyard Book takes places in the UK, which is definitely a plus; even though it doesn't really make too much of a difference storywise where the events take place. The version I bought was illustrated, so some of the characters or landscapes came alive through the visual as well, but for the most time stuff like that was left for my own imagination, which I like the best.
The characters of the novel are all very interesting. There's our main character, Bod, who grows up amidts ghosts. The ghosts themselves, with varying dates of living visible in their mode of speech or in the opinions they voice. The guardian, Silas, of whom very little is gleaned except by subtle hints. Miss Lupecky, Bod's summer teacher, Bod's childhood friend who returns in time for the end of the book, the very believable school bullies and the bullied from the elementary school Bod attends for a while, the mysterious organisation men, the ghouls, the city folk... Very colourful, very imaginative and very brain-stimulating in all aspects.
The story progresses onwards steadily. Problems arise, get worse, are overcome and learnt from. Bod is a very intellectual character, along with almost all the other characters, too, so there's no fear of the story starting to repeat itself or going in circles. The mundane goes hand in hand with the supernatural, which is treated as a matter of course, rather than as something exotic, fantastic or weird.
The last big problem of Bod's life is, naturally, growing up. But Gaiman manages to put so much hopefulness and expectation into this, too, that it doesn't really feel so bad after the final page is turned and the last sentence read. The Graveyeard Book is o ne of the few children's books that I've read that really manages to convey the sort of joy that is also a part of growing up and not only the anxiety, boredom and shouldering of responsibilities that is the bread and salt of adult life.