February 21, 2012

In Which I Read "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Harper (2008)
307 pages
ISBN 9780060530945

When Neil Gaiman writes a children's book, he seems to tap into the same vein that brought about some of the most chilling nursery rhymes and fairy tales in history. Thank goodness for that, because happy-go-lucky children's stories are fine, by even kids need to know about the things with sharp teeth--and sharp knives.

Nobody Owens is an orphan. His parents and sister were murdered one night when he was only an infant. As if by divine intervention, Nobody evaded the murderer, a sinister individual known as the man Jack, by leaving his crib and toddling off to a nearby graveyard. It was there he was saved by the ghosts and a married couple, the Owens, and a mysterious, looming figure named Silas. Despite the barriers between the living and the dead, the people of the graveyard protect the baby and essentially adopt him, and divert the man Jack from his evil intentions, with Silas posing as the graveyards's caretaker and convincing Jack the baby he's looking for must have gone somewhere else. After that, the baby is given the name Nobody--"Bod" for short.

The book then follows Bod through his childhood living in the graveyard, learning at the feet of Silas his protector, as well as several of the ghostly residents. They are a closeknit community, but even in the graveyard dangers lurk, and Bod again and again finds himself in peril. Ghouls, witches, unscrupulous pawnbrokers, and an ominous entity beneath the graveyard all makes appearances in Bod's formative years. And there's always the spectre of the man Jack somewhere out there in the world, still searching for him.

Things aren't all gloom and doom for the boy, and as he grows up in his spooky surroundings, he lives a life that is boundless with adventure, discovery, mystery, and love. Neil Gaiman captures all of it too, with a deft style that seems like old hat for him by now. Making the ordinary a wondrous playground, and the extraordinary the classroom for wonderful life lessons.

It's pretty hard to find a single thing to quibble over with this story. I just wish I had been a boy when I first read it. I guess I'll have to settle for it delighting my inner child, who is now a little less afraid of those cemeteries he grew up around in his boyhood.



  1. I wasn't sure what to expect from Gaiman doing a children's story, but I quite enjoyed this. It had a very Tim Burton kind of feel to it, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

    Like yourself, I wish I'd had the chance to read it as a young boy, but my teenage son is reading it now, so it's nice to pass on the story.

  2. If you haven't read Coraline yet, that's a good one to read as well from his children's books.