Believe it or not, this is the first time I've read Neil Gaiman. And it won't be the last. (I've yet to read Coraline nor any of his adult books). His writing is fluent and full of detail and his characters are memorable. I'm still thinking about that creepy SLEER with three heads. Jeepers, Scooby!!
This novel starts out with a bang and ends with a bang. But the well begins to run dry in the middle (in the so-called second act) until a certain character reappears. Notice how I say "begins" to run dry. Why doesn't it dry up completely? Because Gaiman's unique setting and quirky dead and half-dead characters provide enough entertainment to momentarily escape the main plot and venture into the unknown and undead.
Main character Nobody Owens is interesting and I truly care about him. His persona isn't that intriguing but it's his situation that drives reader curiosity. Given Bod's (short for Nobody) unfortunate calamity, how can you not care about him? (you'll have to read to find out just how sticky Bod's situation is)
Setting is remarkably described throughout. I felt there, in the graveyard, with Bod, playing and exploring every crack and crevice and headstone and tree limb. Gaiman also offers the readers a glimpse of bird life in the graveyard and even uses birds to make comparisons to other sounds. (Wonder if he wrote this novel near a bird sanctuary or an open window. Neil? Are you there? Hello? Bueller?) The various birds he describes add another element to the setting. Given that nearly the entire novel takes place outside (in the graveyard), birds seem a natural choice to supplement readers' senses. Coming from someone who teaches an entire bird unit and knows a few birders, well done, Mr. Gaiman!
Throughout the story Bod experiences a semi hero's journey, while exploring the outside world and its bullies and escaping danger in his inside world (inside world = the graveyard). However, it seems that Bod never feels threatened or scared enough when he should. He just goes about his business casually, too casually, throwing evil-doers down hatches all while getting help from that creepy SLEER. Yikes! I wanted Bod to feel more danger, more emotion, more worry. But, despite his run-ins with scum-of-the-earth creeps, it never really happened.
Gaiman did keep me turning pages late into the night, eager to find out how Bod's journey ends. And when I read the last page and closed the book, I was satisfied.... with Bod's decisions, his wants, his eagerness to explore, his desire to put the graveyard behind him.
I know one thing, young readers will never look at a graveyard the same again, thanks to Neil Gaiman.