The book opens with the line, “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” And that line drew me instantly into this books.
This Newbery Medal, Carnegie Medal and Hugo Award winning book opens with a mysterious man, known only as the man Jack, who sneaked inside a house and killed the mother, father and older sister in the family. The baby in the nursery, who’s only then two years old, was supposed to be next but he was able to go outside (woken up by the noise and being always a wanderer) and found himself at a forgotten graveyard. The man Jack, who has incredible hunting skills, was able to follow the scent of the baby but the community at the graveyard protected the boy from the killer. His newly-dead parents plead and gave consent to the denizens of the graveyard to take care of their baby. Mr and Mrs Owens volunteered with earnest intention to be the parents of the baby and Silas, who unlike the denizens at the graveyard, can go outside and inside the place, volunteered to be the boy’s guardian. Silas secured the food for the baby and also became his tutor as he learns the ropes of getting around the graveyard and also because he believes that the man Jack will come back. This book follows the story if Nobody “Bod” Owens’, the name the graveyard gave to the boy, growing from his infancy to his young teenager years told through a series of adventures in the graveyard.
“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
Growing up at a graveyard comes with perks. Bod was given the “Freedom of the Graveyard”, which allows him to learn some ghost tricks like disappearing from sight, instilling fear to people and talking to the inhabitants of the the place. But those perks come with a rule. Bod should never leave the graveyard for safety reasons. The readers might think that living at a graveyard might be boring, but no. Bod’s life at the graveyard is filled with adventures. He explored an ancient grave where he meet a slithering Sleer waiting for the return of “the Master”, he was able to cross a ghoul gate that lead him to a terrifying otherworld, he was able to explore an unholy ground at the graveyard where he was able to meet a young witch by the name of Liza whom she helped to have a gravestone and his first adventure outside the graveyard where he meet a deceitful antique buyer. His early life may not be the same way that we were brought up but nonetheless, the dead community around him made the place a “home” for young Bod.
Then there comes Scarlett, a young girl whom Bod befriended but it didn’t last long as Scarlett’s family needs to move. Bod was heartbroken. All through the years as Bod grow, he longed for a human companion and Silas, his guardian, felt it. Silas then allowed Bod to go to school. It was not an easy transition, for Bod was told to always keep a low profile to avoid attention and detach himself from the crowd. But how will an outspoken child do that? Bod uses his graveyard powers against a bully and that shifted the attention of the people at the school to him especially the bullies who will nor stop until they got their revenge. How will Bod protect his identity and the community of the dead where he grew up from being exposed? How will those unexpected consequences affect his relationship with Silas? How will Bod react to Scarlett returning to their town? Who is this man trying to get into Scarlett’s life by wooing her mother? How about the man Jack, it’s been years since Bod was almost killed, did he already stopped his search and went on living his own life or is he just waiting for the right moment to attack? Much worse, does he have other companies and just waiting for the right time to strike?
“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
The book is written in episodic form in a creative premise. The book is like a a compilation of short stories that could each stand alone. Each chapter narrates an adventure of Bod growing up which, for me, made the book cohesive. Gaiman’s imagination, I must say, is so rich as each chapter is distinct and with depth but it passes as a light read. The writes in detail and magically which made me sometimes feel that I’m at the graveyard listening to Bod and the ghosts. His choice of words makes the book even more believable. The author was able to successfully transform a supposed to be morbid and limited setting to a vibrant and limitless one.
The book’s unique characters and their diverse personalities made the book a whimsical read. Bod is a curious, endearing and always aching for adventure that everyone could relate to making this book an enjoyable read. I appreciated every single character that were brought to life in this story. Each played an important part. I love the author’s clever idea of introducing the ghost characters adding what’s written in their tombstones.
The other book that I read from Neil Gaiman is Coraline and I did enjoy both. Both presented a venue for great and diverse set of characters have amazing adventures. In this book, he successfully weaved the real and magical world. Despite the setting being a graveyard, the author made the atmosphere light. Kudos to the author’s character and world building style.
The other thing that I like about the book is how how it presented death to its readers. The author was able to successfully present death as an extension of life rather than an end to it. One day we will all die and it’s not something to be frightened about. I like how the author was able to genuinely make life and death coexist in a book.
“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
There are just some parts of the book that I find sketchy that made it hard for me to be more engage to the characters. The introduced concepts and characters but no detailed backgrounds of each were provided. ***Spoiler Alert*** The background of the man Jack and his group is a bit sketchy for me. I would have even more appreciated the book if more backstories were provided about their history and their purpose. Silas, who walks between the line of living and the dead, the guardian of Bod also lacks backstory for me. It is not clear what his origin is and his group that he belongs to, the Honour Guard. I am very sure that there would be a sequel for this book! It would be awesome if we know what happens to Bod after he leaves the graveyard and get to know more about his Silas.
The overall message of this book is all about growing up. The book is a honest metaphor about children growing up, meeting different people, experiencing failures and success, learning about the things around them until they are mature enough to start their own journeys. Growing up is about moving on, stepping out from you comfort zone and taking risks. I also like how the book portrayed a family who may not be related by blood but they showed true and genuine love towards each other. Bod lives in a community who shares compassion towards each other. The book is not about a sad tale but a celebration.
P.S. The book has illustrations by Dave McKean which enhanced my reading experience.
A satisfying read.
4 stars out of 5.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Format: Trade Paperback
Part of a Series: Standalone
Release Year: 2010
No. of Pages: 327 pages