“For good or for evil -- and I firmly believe that it is for good -- Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than just a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”
“The Graveyard Book” is a young adult novel by Neil Gaiman that readers of all ages can enjoy.
The book tells the story of Nobody Owens, or “Bod,” as he grows up in a graveyard near his house. Each chapter tells a different story, and in each one, Bod is a little older. His decisions and actions reflect his aging as we follow him into adolescence.
Bod first comes to the graveyard when he’s barely a toddler. His parents and siblings are killed by a knife wielding assassin. Fortunately for Bod, he wanders out of his home during the silent attack and makes his way into the graveyard. The ghosts and other paranormal denizens of the graveyard decide to take him in, protect him, and raise him as best they can. The ghosts of the Owens’ become his parents, and Silas, whose nature is left vague for much of the novel, but who is more corporeal and can leave the graveyard, becomes his guardian and sees to his education.
Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you’re grown you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken.
Kiss a lover,
Dance a measure,
Find your name
and buried treasure...
And Mrs. Owens sang all that before she discovered she had forgotten how the song ended. She had a feeling that the final line was something in the way of “and some hairy bacon,” but that might have been another song altogether, so she stopped and instead she sang him the one about the Man in the Moon who came down too soon, and, after that she sang, in her warm county voice, a more recent song abut a lad who put in his thumb and pulled out a plum, and she had just started a long ballad about a young county gentleman whose girlfriend had for no particular reason, poisoned him with a dish of spotted eels, when Silas came around the side of the chapel, carrying a cardboard box.
Bod grows up in the graveyard and picks up ghostly skills, likely fading to invisible and speaking easily with other specters.
While they can teach him those skills, they are less able to teach him about modern life. The graveyard denizens died over a span of centuries. Their knowledge of the world outside the graveyard is from when they were still alive. Their knowledge and speech patterns stop at the time of their death.
As Gaiman introduces us to different residents, he shares their epitaphs with us, which is a nice touch.
And so it went, until it was time for Grammar and Composition wit Miss Letitia Borrows, Spinster of this Parish (Who Did No Harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can You Say Likewise?). Bod liked Miss Borrows, and the coziness of her little crypt, and that she could all-too-easily be led off subject.
Most of Bod’s friends are ghosts. He meets one living friend, but adults don’t easily see Bod, and they are convinced he’s imaginary. That helps keep Bod safe. He’s skeptical of some of the things the living do, too.
Scarlett shrugged. “Well,” she said. “There’s atoms, which is a things that is too small to see, that’s what we’re all made of. And there’s things that’s smaller than atoms, and that’s particle physics.”One of the challenges that Bod faces is that while he grows older, his dead friends don't. The 4, 5, and 6 year olds that live in the graveyard are 4, 5, and 6 year olds forever. Bod isn't. His peer group doesn't age with him. Bod is constantly growing into friendships with kids, and then growing through and beyond them.
Bod nodded and decided that Scarlett’s father was probably interested in imaginary things.
Depsite its apparent target audience, the book doesn’t shy away from dealing with difficult or scary issues of loss. At one point, Bod is captured and taken to an underworld. At another, he discusses the issue of suicide with with Silas.
“And there are always people who find their lives have become so unsupportable they believe the best thing thy could do would be to hasten their transitions to another plane of existence.”
“They kill themselves, you mean?” said Bod. He was about eight years old, wide-eyed and inquisitive, and he was not stupid.
“Does it work? Are they happier dead?”
“Sometimes. Mostly no. 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.”
As Bod matures the topic of being who you are continues to come up.
“About fifteen, I think. Though I still feel the same as I always did,” Bod said, but Mother Slaughter interrupted, “And I still feels like I done when I was a tiny slip of a thing, making daisy chains in the old pasture. You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you ca do about it.”
The book is highly episodic. It’s easy to read a chapter, put the book down, and then come back another day, without being too confused about what’s going on. The digestible chunks make it a nice choice for someone who may not want to sit down and read for hours at a time.
Gaiman still deals with darkness, violence, and life and death issues. They are themes adults may think children don’t need to be exposed to, but that children want to explore anyway. Like the Harry Potter books, The Graveyard Book appeals to all ages. The writing is clever, the characters compelling, and the pace appropriate. As the book moves to its climax, Gaiman builds up the suspense to the point where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's definitely worth a read.
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