It’s a graveyard smash

âÄúThe Graveyard BookâÄù Author: Neil Gaiman Publisher: HarperCollins Pages: 320 Price: $17.99 WeâÄôre all familiar with âÄúThe Jungle BookâÄù (or at least the loosely adapted 1967 Disney movie of the same name). ItâÄôs the tale of a young Indian boy raised by anthropomorphic animals that sing amusing songs and dance the night away. Now imagine that the young Indian boy was British, wandered into a cemetery and was raised not by wolves, but by a host of ghostly figures (who also sing and dance, but not with the same mirth). Such is the story of âÄúThe Graveyard Book,âÄù the latest novel from fantasy laureate and adopted Minnesotan Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is probably best known as the writer of the award-winning comic series âÄúThe Sandman,âÄù but has in recent years obtained mainstream success. In the last five years alone he has written the screenplay for last yearâÄôs computer-generated action romp âÄúBeowulf ,âÄù the not-really-a-childrenâÄôs-book âÄúCoraline,âÄù and the bestselling novel âÄúAnansi Boys. âÄú âÄúThe Graveyard Book,âÄù âÄî like âÄúCoralineâÄù âÄî is one of GaimanâÄôs hybrid fantasy stories that blends the lighthearted components of childrenâÄôs literature with intricate storytelling and elements of the macabre that would probably give any kid nightmares for at least a couple of weeks. It might even frighten adults of a fearful disposition. Basically, itâÄôs a really dark book at times. The story opens with a baby, by some stroke of luck, wandering from his home to a nearby graveyard, thus escaping what would have been certain death at the hands of a shadowy assassin. The killer hunts him down, but the child is spared from the fate that befalls the rest of his family due to the compassion of the ghosts of the cemetery as they manage to hide the boy away. With nowhere else to go, the child is named Nobody Owens (Bod for short) and begins his new life among the dead. The story follows Bod through his formative years, as he learns the ways of the living and the dead and meets a handful of strange characters along the way. The book, in classic Gaiman form, borrows from the conventions of many literary works and a handful of mythologies, but manages to become a vibrant and somehow unique story. The resulting pastiche, in all its complexity, makes for an enjoyable read for kids and adults alike. Snaking among the text of the book are the wonderfully dismal drawings of longtime Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean , whose work on âÄúThe SandmanâÄù and a particularly disturbing Batman graphic novel has garnered him widespread acclaim. McKean, who is known for his chaotic and jarring illustrations, tones down the intensity of his work, just barely, for âÄúThe Graveyard Book.âÄù The result is some marvelous artwork that mirrors the beauty of the storytelling, while maintaining the dark complexity of a McKean work. âÄúThe Graveyard BookâÄù is a perfect introduction for anyone who is unfamiliar with GaimanâÄôs work. It contains all the joy and horror that makes his stories some of the more memorable in contemporary literature. The story is a fantasy, but thatâÄôs not to say it isnâÄôt an elegantly crafted narrative. For all the dark themes, supernatural occurrences and sinister happenings, the book is, at its core, a coming-of-age tale about an average kid. Sure, he lives in a crypt and his surrogate parents are ghosts, but he manages to grow up like any other child. ThatâÄôs GaimanâÄôs point; it doesnâÄôt matter where or how youâÄôre raised as long as you have good people looking out for you.