I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this up, but what I received was surprising and wonderful; I enjoyed it far more than I even thought I would. It shares some similarities with Gaiman's Coraline: an imaginative child caught up in bizarre and life-threatening situations with other-worldly creatures.
The book is packed with sensory richness. The first half of the story is filled with vivid descriptions of the English countryside and saliva-inducing sentences about warm, savory comfort foods (like Old Mrs. Hempstock's banana pancakes). Gaiman is masterful at writing from the perspective of a child, as all the observances he includes are just the sort of thing one remembers from their own childhood; elements both nostalgic and scary.
Speaking of scary, this book is delightfully creepy, yet there is a careful subtlety about the spooky parts. This book could probably be read to children without giving them horrific nightmares, but there's enough between the lines to thoroughly creep out a grown adult. As with many of Gaiman's works, this story peeks behind the curtain of the universe at forces much older and more powerful than the world before our eyes; a straight-forward story that hints at much bigger concepts.
While the 'villain' in this story torments the seven-year-old narrator (who is never named) to no end, his security and fortress is the kind yet mysterious trio of Hempstock women; Old Mrs. Hempstock, her daughter Ginnie, and Ginnie's daughter Lettie (an eleven-year-old who befriends the narrator, and unintentionally lands him in serious trouble). These women have curious powers and are capable of some fantastic things, and it is hinted that they are much, much older than they appear. These were my favorite characters for their humor, strangeness, and warmth.
This book is short, so it's hard to say much without giving something away, but suffice it to say that I found myself captivated after only a few pages and I blew through the book in a couple sittings. It is a small, sweet story of childhood friendship with weirdness at the corners and hints of much larger themes. This is definitely one I will read to my kids when they're a little older, for I think it is going to have the same timelessness as the Narnia stories, though it is significantly darker in tone.