For anyone who didn’t follow this big book news this year, Gaiman was the 2009 Newbery Award for this lovely gem of a book. I like Neil Gaiman, though I’m not of his adoring followers. I thought Coraline was great, was charmed by Stardust, but I never read Sandman or some of his other things. So I think I’m being completely objective when I say… I loved this! What a great book! A very unusual choice (I think) for the Newbery, but I applaud the committee for selecting it because it is a standout. The more I think about it, the more things I liked about the book.
The plot at its simplest is that a baby is raised in a graveyard, and although he is a living human being he has been granted the power to act as the graveyard’s inhabitants do (Fading, slipping through walls, seeing the dead, seeing in the dark, etc.). His adoptive parents have been dead a couple hundred years and his “guardian”, Silas, is a vampire (though that word is never used.) The boy is called Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short. The creepy man who killed his family when he was baby has never forgotten his unfinished business and is determined to find and kill Bod.
Bod’s childhood is quirky and curious. He befriends all these characters from different time periods (he knows how to be mannerly all throughout time!), he experiences ghouls and their terrifying underworld, and he discovers the oldest inhabitant of the graveyard–pre-Roman times (which totally reminded me of the Buffy episodes where she encounters the “First Slayer”, who is an aboriginal). It’s charmingly spooky, though not really scary (though I’ll admit to leaving the basement laundry for Paul to do the night I read this.) It’s also a nice growing up story as Bod eventually must face leaving the safety and loving spirit arms of the graveyard.
*I have also heard that this is terrific as an audiobook and is read by Gaiman himself.