The Graveyard Book is the coming of age story of a mortal boy named Nobody Owens, who is raised by the kind spirits of a graveyard. The book begins chillingly with the murder of the boy's family, then coasts into charming episodic chapters about his life from the age of two to roughly fifteen. The episodes are by turns insightful and quirky and sometimes quite dark. Death is a regular presence in the book, but that isn't the source of the darkness. The darkness comes from the perils of growing up, and from the shadow cast by the man who killed Nobody Owens' family, a man called Jack who, years later, is still trying to finish the job.
Neil Gaiman as said that Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book served inspiration, and Kipling's influence is definitely evident in The Graveyard Book's structure and themes - especially in its themes. Belonging, isolation and the bittersweetness of growing up are foundational to both books, and the episodic pacing keeps the plot moving so that these themes can be touched on without beating an already well-beaten dead horse.
This is really wonderful book and a really scattershot post. Every time I settle into addressing one aspect of the book, I get pulled in another direction, it's just so pitch-perfect, so thoughtful and so bittersweet. This is Neil Gaiman's perfect book. I hope it gets read widely and voraciously because it deserves every award it could get.