Tag Archives: young adult novel

What’s Your Epitaph? Review: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens is a boy who lives in a graveyard.  His parents are ghosts, his guardian walks the border between the living and dead, his tutor is a shape shifter, and his best friend thinks he’s imaginary.

But Nobody Owens isn’t the boy’s real name.  And he isn’t a ghost.

Spanning over 10 years to complete, author Neil Gaiman watched his toddler son ride his tricycle around a cemetery and a story was in the making.  It’s interesting that the first draft of his story actually started at chapter 4.  In his acknowledgements he credits a variety of friends and family that introduced him to graveyard history, folklore, and my favorite ghouls, all of which helped to construct the Newbery winning graveyard book.

I really enjoyed the style of Gaiman’s voice.  In several chapters you don’t know, but you do know, who is doing the talking.  There’s a kind of mystery to the book.  He takes you into a wonderfully unique cemetery in Scotland.  A graveyard with a mixture of tombs, and characters, on the outskirts of town.

One thing I found that set Gaiman’s book apart from mainstream fiction is how many characters he introduces.  There are lots.  The editor in me panicked the first few chapters in, “Neil, what are you doing?  Who are these people?  Do I need to  remember them?  Should I have brought a highlighter with me?  A notepad?  A three-ring binder?  Wait, I’m ok, this is different, but I get it.”  He does have a large cast of characters, but they’re very unique.  And while some may make a short appearance, the way he introduces them is so cool.  After he names a character in the graveyard, he writes in parentheses the epitaph on their tombstone.  I loved it!  But can’t you just imagine this cooped up writer in an office madly scribbling epitaphs on a piece of napkin or back of a billing statement, trying to get it just right?  That kind of detail is exactly what would slowly and agonizingly drive me to lose it, but I’d have to have each one just right.  Gaiman nails it here!

The Graveyard Book may be shelved on the young adult bookshelves, but this is a book anyone will enjoy.  It’s a fast read with a captive setting and well plotted storyline.  Illustrations by Dave McKean also add a fun touch to the story.

What would your epitaph read?

Too morbid?  Just tell us what book you’re currently reading!

Something Good and Strong and Beautiful

Dad wipes his eyes and I do too because mine are blurry and somehow I think it’s really important to see right now.  What I see is that his body is shaking which means he’s crying and soon his voice comes out in strange-sounding gasps that sound like he is laughing weirdly or throwing up except nothing is coming out of his mouth.  Finally he covers his face with his hands and stops the noise and his body stops shaking and after he sniffs twice he takes his hands away from his face and turns his head to me.

How did you get to be so smart?

I shrug.  I’m really working hard on finesse.

Then he takes my hands in his and I don’t even pull them away because he is looking at my cuts closely and I would want to do that too if I saw cuts on somebody’s hands so I let him look.

Do you still really want to do this?

I don’t know if he means to keep cutting the oak tree or work on the chest but I say, Yes, just in case he means the chest.

You think this will bring us Closure?

I shake my head.  No.  I know it will.

He blows a little air out of his nose and nods.  He lets go of my hands and does one more big sigh.  Maybe we can make something good and strong and beautiful come out of this.

Good and strong and beautiful.  I like those words.  They sound like Devon.  I want to build something good and strong and beautiful.

Okay, Dad says.  Let’s do it.


Just a hooking excerpt from Kathryn Erskine’s young adult novel, Mockingbird.  Caitlin is a 10 year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that makes identifying and expressing emotions difficult.  Preparing for middle school is tough enough, but Caitlin’s disorder and the death of her brother, Devon, make life even more difficult to understand.  Erskine gives us a truly humane voice, writing in the style of Caitlin with words appearing capitalized for importance.  Words like Heart, Closure, Work At It, and Look At The Person.  Caitlin’s best friend is her dictionary, and when her brother is killed in a school shooting, she must come to understand what Closure is.  So, she asks everyone she meets, “How do I get to the state of experiencing an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event?”  You can see where both heartache and laughter make their appearance in this quick, and beautiful read.

The idea for Mockingbird came  to Erskine after the violent shooting at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007.  The shooting was the deadliest one by a lone gunman in United States history.  Deeply impacted by this event happening in her own backyard, Erskine sought to develop how a community finds closure, especially for the families with special needs.  Her own daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second grade.  The first-person narration of this story I feel gives it the power it does.  You empathize with Caitlin, in her plight to understand empathy!

Do you remember hearing about the shooting at Virginia Tech?  I do, I was still in college and the news was on all the time.  The campus did lots to allow students a chance to speak what they were feeling and provide resources for anyone who was feeling depressed or angry or felt they had no one to talk to.  I highly encourage you to read this book.  The chapters are short and quick moving with lots of dialogue, so it is a very fast read.  And for those of you raising children, what a wonderful novel to spark up conversation with your kiddos before they grow up and live out their own lives away from home.  My local library is partnering with two area high schools to lead a book discussion and I’m hoping to go the night the author will be town!

What books made an impact on you when you were young?  What about now?  Happy reading from The Happiness Project!

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