I just finished reading two books by Neil Gaiman. The first one was "The Graveyard Book." I finished it and literally jetted to B&N to buy the other one mentioned in the overleaf and much lauded these days by the media. (Also picked up a copy of Persepolis and a biog. of George IV's wife, but that's for another day).
The second one was "Coraline." Coraline scared the ever-loving bejeezus out of me, to be quite frank. I wanted to go see the animated movie version of it, up until I read it. And then, I decided that there was no way I could sit through an hour+ of that terror. It was a wonderful book about a girl with a ton of courage. More courage than I have. It scared me.
"The Graveyard Book" was absolutely wonderful. I read it in one day, lying on the sofa at my parents' house. It was incredibly inspiring, and had wonderful morals about triumph in adversity, the inherent goodness of most people, the inability of some people to deal with trauma, and the fact that we all have to grow up sometime. I think some of my ex-boyfriends could greatly benefit by reading the book.
TGYB was incredibly descriptive, and some of the most innovative characters I've encountered in a long while, even though the story is influenced by/based on Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." If you aren't aware of the fact up front, you will be by the time you finish it (and once you read Gaiman's acknowledgements, in which he - ahem - acknowledges his debt to Mr. Kipling).
The main character, Nobody Owens, is raised in a graveyard by a combination of ghosts, vampires, and weredogs, and, amazingly enough, turns out okay. The vampire character - who is never explicitly called a vampire - is probably the most likable yet emotionally distant character ever. But then, most authors strive for their characters to be approachable, even if in an "I hate you, Mr. Character" way, so the fact that there aren't many emotionally distant characters endeared to the hearts of readers probably shouldn't be too surprising.
The other characters are believable, in a fantasy-fiction-about-dead-people-raising-a-child kind of way. Meaning, I suppose, that their motives and emotions seem genuine. The fifteen year old girl can't handle the fact that she's been involved in a battle for the good of mankind? Believable.
The young boy gets angry because he's been in trouble and "nobody likes me everybody hates me guess I'll go eat worms?" Believable.
The illustrations are incredible, too. McKean (the illustrator) did a bang up job of adding just the right number of pictures with the right amount of abstraction to give them a jarring feeling.
Added bonus: Mr. Gaiman can hold his own in a battle of wits against Stephen Colbert. http://www.boingboing.net/2009/03/17/neil-gaiman-on-colbe.html