I’ve always liked and respected Neil Gaiman, but I’ve never really LOVED anything he’s written – until now. I didn’t even have plans to read this, but was actually just going to do a cursory read through of the first chapter to make sure it was suitable for my daughter. I don’t even usually do that kind of thing, but this was a gift and the gift-givers were expressing some anxiety about whether it might be too dark for a nine year old. The funny thing is after I read the first chapter I didn’t want to stop.
The opening pages are dark indeed. I’m not giving anything away by saying that this book starts with a triple homicide and a toddler in grave danger (pun not intended, but kind of awesome nonetheless). But that’s really as bad as it gets. After reading the whole book I’m even starting to wonder if it my daughter might actually find it not creepy and sinister enough. After all, at its heart, this is a book about love – familial love, love of life, etc. Where Gaiman’s Coraline was a sort of creepy ode to Alice in Wonderland, this is a heartfelt tribute to The Jungle Book – a very honest examination of what it means to grow up.
I really found myself riveted from start to finish. This is what an award winning book should look like – meaningful, but also highly enjoyable. The Newbery committee really got this one right. That said, it’s not a perfect book. The final third was a little weaker than the first two-thirds. It felt rushed and the antagonists become borderline ridiculous. I also hated how the Scarlett situation was wrapped up, but I also don’t recall Mr. Gaiman asking my opinion ;-)
I’ll end with this perfectly charming interview of Neil Gaiman by Stephen Colbert: