I’m always on the lookout for books that I think I can share with my oldest child. We were in a used bookstore last week and I bought her one of the Traveling Pants books and when I realized I had enough credit I thought I’d pick up one for myself (and that I could pass down to her if deemed appropriate). I’ve long been a fan of Neil Gaiman, and when I saw this on the shelf I grabbed it.
The Graveyard Book is the story of a young boy whose parents and sister were killed by an evil man named Jack. He managed to escape death only because he toddled into a cemetery and found refuge there with the help of the indigenous population. That’s right, he’s protected by the dead and by a powerful non-dead/non-living person known as Silas. Told in a series of short stories spread out over fourteen years, we see Bod aka Nobody Owens grow under the tutelage of his occasionally over-protective guardians. He’s happy enough until he makes a friend in a little girl who happens across the graveyard that’s his home. After that, Bod is eager to learn more about the world outside, in spite of the fact that his family’s killer is still out there looking for him.
The thing that I loved the most about it is how all of the standard tropes of horror are turned on their heads. The supernatural creatures we fear most, ghosts, ghouls, and werewolves to name a few are the heroes and heroines. Bod learns how to turn invisible and non-corporeal and uses these gifts along with the ability to walk in dreams to protect and serve others. It’s the friendly looking people that one has to watch out for in this world.
I also appreciate the way he tells the story. As I said, each chapter is its own story. One of them was even published as a standalone novella. I’ve seen this in a number of other YA works (Mik Murdoch for example), and it works well here. We get to see Bod develop as a character and are presented with the unique challenges he faces as he matures. Gaiman wanted to write something like The Jungle Book that took place in a graveyard. I can definitely see the parallels and it makes me want to return to those stories and give them to my kids as well.
The Graveyard Book is an excellent read and is a must for anyone who likes a bit of dark fantasy with a lot of heart. I gave it to my twelve year old without reservation.