Neil Gaiman is the rare author who successfully writes books for kids, teenagers, and adults. Most of his books are fantasies, but don’t look for zombie fiction or bodice-rippers in the form of vampire tales. I’ve found Gaiman to be, at heart, a hearth-and-home type, and however far in this world (or others) his characters stray, most of them seem to be looking for love and security.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (in both our adults and young adult fiction collections) opens with deceptive ordinariness. The narrator has returned home for a funeral and finds himself traveling, literally and in memory, down the lane to the house of his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock. Six years older than the narrator, Lettie had been an authoritative and self-contained youngster, and as such children do, she commanded great respect from her younger friend. But Lettie was unlike any other child the little boy ever knew.
On its surface, this novel is a story of monsters and magic (and it’s very good at that level), but beneath that, it is about death, betrayal, and the looming poverty that threatens the boy’s family, problems beyond a young child’s understanding and which make his life monstrous in ways he cannot describe. But Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother understand exactly what is happening and come to his rescue.
The descriptions of terrible creatures and life-threatening situations are balanced by homey depictions of such down-to-earth things as lovingly prepared meals, the comfort of a hot bath, the harvest moon (or two!) on a clear night, and the firm grip of a friend’s hand.
Fortunately, the Milk is Gaiman in kid mode, and it is a delight! Fortunately, the Milk is a brisk, silly shaggy-dog story that has EVERYTHING: dinosaurs, aliens, time travel, dwarfs, pirates, volcanoes, vampires, ponies, galactic police, piranhas, and breakfast cereal. Gaiman’s whimsical text is ably matched by Skottie Young’s funny, fluid pen-and-ink illustrations. This book should not be limited to children!
P.S. Don’t miss Gaiman’s lecture on libraries, reading, and imagination: