Thursday, October 30, 2008

a delight and a disappointment

I've got two more books to review for RIP III, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Floods: Good Neighbors by Colin Thompson. So, anyone care to guess which was the delight and which was the disappointment? ;)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Okay, so I have to say I feel silly even talking about The Graveyard Book. Everyone and their dog has already read it, reviewed it, read truckloads of other reviews of it, etc. Obviously, not being very insightful or anything, I'm sure I have nothing of importance to add, so I'll just keep it short.

First though, let me just thank Jean once again. She bought me this book while at the National Book Festival meeting the genius, Mr. Gaiman, in person. Isn't she the sweetest? Thanks Jean!

In the unlikely event that there's someone out there that doesn't know what this book is a nutshell, it's a coming-of-age story of a boy whose parents and sister are murdered when he's just a toddler. The boy, Nobody, or Bod, was to be killed as well, but he managed to escape the assassin's grip by inadvertently wandering into a graveyard. And it is in this graveyard that we watch Bod grow up, with the help and guidance of a myriad of dead people. Hmmm...okay, that little summary there just doesn't cut I'm just going to have to strongly suggest that if you are one of the three or four people on the planet who has not yet had the pleasure of savoring this little treasure, you need to change that.

Truly, truly, I adored this book. In some ways, I can't help but want to compare it with Coraline in my mind. I guess that's simply because they are both appropriate for a younger reader. But in actuality, they are quite different experiences. As perfectly, deliciously creepy as Coraline is, it didn't have quite the depth as the The Graveyard Book. Or maybe that's not quite fair to say, maybe it would be closer to the truth to say that I just had a deeper experience with The Graveyard Book. Partly it was the characters, I suppose. Oh, what I wouldn't give to meet some of these characters in real life. Or in real death. Or, yeah, whatever. Two, in particular. Liza Hempstock, a young girl drowned and burned as a witch centuries earlier. And Silas, the man who becomes Bod's guardian. I think he's one of my favorite characters to come along in a book in quite some time. It was somewhat of an added bonus for me that I finished Dracula right before beginning this book.

But it definitely wasn't the characters alone that made this book such a wonderful experience for me. Another thing that I really enjoyed were the little nuggets of wisdom that kept popping out. We're not talking blatant, beat-one-over-the-head type messages or anything. Just little gems thrown in to smile over. Like when Silas tells Bod that he'll ask around and find him some teachers...

Bod was thrilled. He imagined a future in which he could read everything, in which all stories could be opened and discovered.

Or when Bod is asking Silas about suicide...

"Does it work? Are they happier dead?"

"Sometimes. Mostly, no. It's like people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean."

Or when Silas is trying to warn Bod that the man who killed his family is still out there...

Bod shrugged. "So?" he said. "It's only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead."

"Yes." Silas hesitated. "They are. And they are, for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished."

But there's more than that, too. So much more. Things I don't even know how to put in words. Bottom line, it's just a delightfully wonderful story. Bittersweet. Left me bawling my eyes out. And left me with a very warm smile upon my heart.

Okay, I apologize...that wasn't nearly as short as I meant it to be. Anyway, now on to the disappointment...

The Floods: Good Neighbors by Colin Thompson.

The boys and I saw this book at the store several weeks back, and we all thought it looked quite fun. The Floods are a family of wizards and witches that live in an ordinary old neighborhood in somewhere U.S.A. And they happen to have the family from hell living next door to them. Not literally. No, these neighbors are all too mortal, and we should all thank our lucky stars that they don't live next to us.

The Floods are actually interesting characters, which in a way, makes it even sadder that this book was really just so lack-luster. Wasted potential, I guess. But frankly, I just felt that Thompson tried too hard to be tacky, to be gross, to be funny. And it all just fell flat. I felt like he didn't kids enough credit, like he felt they couldn't appreciate subtlety.

The last book the boys and I read was The Witches by Roald Dahl. (Aside from a plethora of Halloween picture books, that is.) And I suppose it's safe to say that very few books ever could have lived up to that one. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't still look for that sophistication in children's books.

In all fairness, I guess I should mention that the boys enjoyed the book more than I did. They didn't love it, by any means. But they didn't hate it either.

Finally, I need to just mention the one thing I absolutely loved about this book...its artwork! The illustrations are by Crab Scrambly, and let me tell you, they are absolutely fabulous! Oh, if only the story could have lived up to the art...


If you've reviewed either of these books, feel free to leave a link and I'll be happy to add it here. Thanks.

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings

Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

Kim at Bold. Blue. Adventure.

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews

Melody at Melody's Reading Corner

Somer at SomeReads

Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings


3M said...

I read this and Dracula for RIP III as well. Loved both of them!

Now to just get to reviewing them!

Kim L said...

Thanks for mentioning my review, and I couldn't agree with you more. I loved Coraline, but somehow this book seemed to have more to it. I think maybe it is because Coraline, at its heart, was an adventure story, and The Graveyard Book is more about growing up, finding yourself, so it tends to be more reflective.

Joy said...

Okay, Debi. I will read The Graveyard Book - you have convinced me. :)

Dewey said...

I'm right in the middle of writing up my post about The Graveyard Book this moment! I appreciate the links to other reviews, because now I don't have to do the work myself for the bottom of my own review. ;)

bookworm said...

"so I'm just going to have to strongly suggest that if you are one of the three or four people on the planet who has not yet had the pleasure of savoring this little treasure, you need to change that."

hehe I'm one of those people! Its on my list of things to read though.

Nymeth said...

I can't say I was very surprised to see which one was the delight :P You shared almost all my favourite passages from The Graveyard Book! And like I was telling Kim yesterday, every new review makes me want to go read it again :P I found it very moving too, and I can imagine how you, as a mother, were even more touched by certain scenes. As much as I love Coraline, I think this is his best book for children yet.

That's too bad about The Floods...judging by the cover I can imagine how beautiful the artwork must be. But yeah, when I feel that a children's author is underestimating his reader's intelligence I'm immediately put off. The Graveyard Book does the opposite of that, which is one of the reasons why I loved it so much!

Megan said...

I'm among the three or four, but it is on my wish list. Thanks for sharing the wisdom nugget about the people who believe they'll be happy if they go live someplace else only to find it doesn't work that way. That's so totally me (er, minus the suicide angle, though), and I learned that lesson that hard way... =/

Dawn said...

I'm one of the three or four who haven't read the book. Thanks for the review. It sounds good.

I can always count on you for recommending a good book. Trust me you are never the last person to read a book. It's me!!

take care,

Chris said...

What a great review Debi :) Everytime I read another review of the graveyard book it makes me want to go back and read it again. I broke down and bought it on itunes, so I'm now LISTENING to the Graveyard Book and it's great read aloud!

Jean said...

I, too, loved the passage about potential, Debi. And the book itself is a real winner. Chris, the audio version is also online, free, as compiled during Neil's book tour. At each stop, he read a different chapter. It's all online, complete with video of his reading. I've listened to some as I do stuff around the house. Wonderful!

jpderosnay said...

very glad you enjoyed "the graveyard book"! if everyone and their dog has read it then i'm probably the lonely rat in the gutter that hasn't.

i was meant to, of course, but my rip funding ran out. but i definitely will be reading it sometime soon!

so glad to hear that this is vintage gaiman!

and "the witches" just a mention of that book puts a smile on my face. that was my first "favourite" book. :D

J. Kaye Oldner said...

Had to laugh about the Neil Gaiman. You're way ahead of me. I've never read one of his books.

Stephanie said...

I want to read this SO BAD!! Man. I'm hoping to get a copy for Christmas!

Trish said...

Even though comparisons can get sticky, I'm glad that you compared it to Coraline because the depth that you talk about has sold me on reading this one! Yes--I am one of the three or four people on the planet who hasn't read it. Usually the case for me. :)

Somer said...

I reviewed this one just today! (I'm too lazy to find the link right now, sorry!) I loved the suicide quote, too.

Marg said...

I haven't read The Graveyard Book yet, and I don't have a dog!!!

Melody said...

Thanks for linking my review, Debi! I love The Graveyard Book & Coraline; both of which featured strong young hero and heroine that I think will inspire not only to the young readers but to the adults as well!

Rhinoa said...

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book as well. It was filled with lots of great mini stories. It's a shame you weren't so keen on The Floods as I really like the cover. Maybe it's just more suited to younger readers.