After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.13 out of 5
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
This, I thought to myself on reading the first few pages, is a book for children??
But I kind of knew I would love it even from the opening paragraphs. That’s because if anyone doesn’t dumb it down for children it’s Neil Gaiman. He has a gift for the macabre and for knowing that some children like to watch the dark corners and get a thrill from convincing themselves that something is moving within them.
So this children’s book kicks off with a triple homicide (including a child) and an attempted murder of an even younger child who manages to get away. That even younger child is Bod (Nobody Owens) who manages to find his way into a graveyard where he is protected and welcomed but most of all loved by the inhabitants. Well, some of them.
Those inhabitants are mainly ghosts but there is also a vampire (who is never ever described as such but we know what he is from the early mention that he only eats one kind of food and it isn’t bananas), ghouls and a werewolf (who also isn’t referred to as such).
Bod grows up a normal, curious young boy who wants to make friends and see the world. This is a problem as the organisation that wanted Bod are still around and they still want Bod dead.
I have to say this – I love Neil Gaiman, you know I do if you’ve been following this page but you should also know that I don’t just heap unlimited and unnecessary praise. He has written some things that are just ‘meh’ to me but then when I read something like The Graveyard Book I’m reminded once again why he’s my favourite writer.
Sometimes I think Neil (can I call him Neil? I’m gonna) writes children’s books better than he does adult. The reason why I think this, isn’t because I think his easy writing style lends itself to a cleaner children’s book style (even though it does), or that he creates characters that are fun and interesting with enough development to keep you caring (because he does), or that he writes a plot that moves swiftly (it does).
The main reason for me is because Neil has a talent for taking you back to your own childhood. I’m going to guess that most of us (hopefully none of us!) had our families murdered, were hunted by a secret organisation and grew up in a graveyard.
But I bet most of us had that longing for friends. Or to understand who we were and what place we held in this world. I bet most of us had sudden, inexplicable anger and irrational outbursts because the grownups kept things from us or stopped us from doing what we wanted to do. Even if it was for our own good. I bet most of us has had a grownup we loved tell us how disappointed they were in us when we did those things and felt the sting of shame that came with it.
That’s kind of why I loved The Graveyard Book. Because the horrors weren’t ghosts and ghouls but nasty school bullies. It wasn’t the ancient things that lurked in crypts, it was adults who didn’t mean well. It wasn’t falling through tombs but friends who moved away and who couldn’t like you anymore because of the feelings you hurt. It was the painful feeling of growing up and growing apart.
There’s not much more I have to say about The Graveyard Book other than I really enjoyed it. If I’m being technical I could say that a lot of characters outside of the main ones were brief; introduced and discarded for plot purposes. (I love Silas though. I need to add that here).
I could also say that the plot at times seemed to lurch from mini-story to mini-story in the form of chapters rather than being linked together (at least until the end anyway) and that some threads (like the bullies) disappeared completely and didn’t seem to have a strong reason to be introduced in the first place.
Well I’ve said all that but this book made me chuckle and somehow feel sad and nostalgic. Anyway, I don’t read books because I want to pick apart their technical elements (even though I know I do) but I read books because I want them to make me chuckle and feel sad and nostalgic.
Neil Gaiman, I love when you write stories like this. I’m glad I can still enjoy stories like this. I’m never growing up.