Sunday, February 12, 2012

2009 Hugo - THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman

The first thing that sticks out about the 2009 Hugo nominations for best novel was that the majority of nominees were young adult books.  John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale from his "Old Man's War" series and internet darling Cory Doctorow's "kids fight the power" novel Little Brother both targeted younger audiences, as did Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which actually won the prestigious Newberry for children's fiction as well.  This is more a reflection of the current publishing market than anything else - the huge publishing successes of the past ten years have been young adult works like the Harry Potter series (excellent) and the Twilight series (blech).  The other big success story in fiction were the Dan Brown books, which have some adult themes but are still written at a five-year-old level.  So, young adult books sell more and make more money as intellectual properties, ergo, more big authors write YA books (which isn't inherently a bad thing).

This win also continues the dominance of fantasy, and particularly the kind of urban fantasy that Gaiman helped to pioneer (and which seems to have surpassed most other speculative fiction in the market).  In other words, there's a lot about the nominations and win in the novel category to give old school sci-fi fans reason to worry and wring their hands.  At the end of the day, however, you have to admit that this is a well-written, fun little novel that ranks among Gaiman's best.

They plot is a play on the Jungle Book, only here the orphaned baby isn't raised by animals in the jungle.  Instead, he wanders into a quiet old graveyard where he is adopted by ghosts (and a few other supernatural creatures of the night) who named him Nobody Owens, or Bod for short.  Bod communes with the spirits (who are all rather sweet and harmless), learns important life lessons, and discovers the ways of his adopted parents - including the abilities to escape perception and walk through walls.  He also encounters some of the hazards of life with the dead - ancient spirit guardians and gruesome ghouls.  It's all very episodic, but Gaiman weaves this strands together quite well in the penultimate chapter, when Bod must confront the supernatural killer of his parents.

So, it's light, but very good, Gaiman reading.  And it is a nice reversal of his usual formula in that Bod's biggest challenge is always moving from a supernatural milieu into everyday normal human life, instead of the typical vice cersa.  Like a lot of good YA literature, there are some universal themes about growing up that can appeal to adults as well.

Grade: B+

By the way, that's all the Hugo novels! Click the Hugo novel tag, and all the winners are there! I dare you to!

That's the end of my original plan, but I've added so much that I still have a couple of weeks to go.


  1. This is kinda sad! I hope you plan on continuing reviewing books after the next few weeks. This blog has been part of my routine for so long haha

  2. Thanks. I'll probably go through this year's Hugos at least. I have some other ideas to keep it going longer too.