If it wasn’t already evident from the number of his books dominating my favorites shelves, I’m a Neil Gaiman fangirl. And with that out of the way, if I had to pick the one book that boiled down his writing in a nutshell, that prize would go to The Graveyard Book. (For the record, not my absolute favorite. That’s American Gods. We will be getting to that.) It’s got everything that I consider to be QUINTESSIAL Neil Gaiman—humor when you least expect it, scary without delving into jump scares or gore, well-developed characters who aren’t completely good or evil and feel like people (living, dead or otherwise), and heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. To wit, this is one of the few books that still makes me cry no matter how many times I read it.The structure of the book works extremely well. We do get all of the important moments in Bod’s life, but in a series of vignettes rather than an over-arching biography. The driving plot of the book—the man Jack hunting Bod to finish his job—is there, present under all of Bod’s adventures, and really, the book isn’t about Bod defeating evil, it’s about him growing up. (Well, obviously.) The plot just sets the story in motion, and there are times when I just lose myself in Bod’s life that I forget that “Oh, yeah, that guy’s out to kill him.” And I like how we don’t get every single moment of his childhood, but just short little glossed over moments that get mentioned in each chapter. Like him going to a football match for the first time or his years in between school and reuniting with Scarlet. And that’s the thing about how Gaiman plots his books. He gives enough information needed to explain what’s going on, but leaves the rest up to the reader. It’s tantalizingly frustrating, but it doesn’t bog down the story. Do I want to know more about the Honour Guard and the Jacks of All Trades? Good God, yes. Does it lessen my enjoyment of the book that I don’t know every little detail? No.Since the story is largely about character, it stands that the characterization isn’t necessarily black and white. There are good guys and bad guys, but the good guys don’t exactly have clean pasts and the bad guys can be pitied. The most obvious example is Silas, with all of his talk of being a monster, but then we have Bod. In the course of the novel, he torments two bullies via Dreamwalking and his solution to defeating Jack is to hand him over to an Eldritch Abomination and watch him being taken alive. This is the fate of the villain, who wanted to kill a toddler in cold blood and that death horrified me. But, strangely, that’s what I like about this book. There’s a grey area in the characterization, there’s no real heroes and villains. (And trust me, when Neil Gaiman writes a complete monster, he will let you know in full detail.)The full cast brings a whole new life (pun slightly intended) to the book. I love the inhabitants of the graveyard—the witch Liza Hempstock, the Owenses, Mother Slaughter, and my personal favorite, the poet Nehemiah Trot (who gets one of the best lines in the whole book). Obviously, they represent Bod’s distance from the world of the dead, but they’re so well-rounded and handled that they feel real. There’s mentions sprinkled throughout about how Bod relates to different ghosts as he grows up, but it feels like those ghosts mature and grow as well. There’s not as many encounters with living people, aside from Bod’s ill-fated school adventure and Scarlet, but it helps mold him into the person he becomes at the end.(It also helps to show his need for that connection with living people.) And the writing. I cannot describe what it is Neil Gaiman does with words and language. And this is just such a perfect example of how he writes. It’s such a vivid use of language and just adds to the atmosphere of the book. And even adding to that are Dave McKean’s illustrations. They’re not surreal like McKean’s more well-known style, but there’s an equilibrium of creepy and touching and fantastic. And that combined with Gaiman’s world-building and writing—look, there’s a reason why they collaborate a lot. I can’t say anything bad about this book. (There are baby nitpicks, but they’re so tiny that I brush them away.) The Graveyard Book is just about as near perfect of a book that you can get. When I first read this book, I just sat and stared at that last page, amazed. I’ve been reading Gaiman for a few years at the time and it still blew me away. There’s really nothing more that I can say without being redundant at this point. Just go and read this book now.