It took years for Neil Gaiman to write this book. Each time he'd start on the manuscript he felt compelled to set it aside until he was a better writer. We can be thankful he did—The Graveyard Book is nearly perfect. Unlike so many of the books touted as great children's literature in recent years, this one is, though a few shades darker than what many readers are probably used to.
This is a ghost story, of course. Or is it? The main character isn't a ghost, he's a young boy named Bod....or, more exactly, Nobody Owens, the lone survivor of a family murder taken in by ghosts in his infancy. The rest of the characters, both living and dead, are the kind you'd expect in an old English graveyard, with all the pretentions, eccentricities, fears, kindnesses, and absurdities shared by humans of all eras and places.
A collection of related stories rather than a complete novel, Gaiman's book was modeled loosely on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books. But instead of a panther named Bagheera, Bod has a vampire named Silas; instead of a bear named Baloo, there's a werewolf named Miss Lupescu; instead of a wolf pack, ghosts raise the man child; and instead of Shere Khan the Tiger, there's the mysterious and terrifying "man Jack."
Gaiman has always been adept at crafting highly amusing stories that are also thoughtful and meaningful. He excels at this here, but adds to his deft storytelling a poetic style by turns funny and scary that makes The Graveyard Book one of his deepest and most entertaining stories to date.
If you aren't into ghosts and ghouls, you won't be into this. Bod finds himself in Ghulheim, confronting the eerie keepers of an ancient barrow, talking to a witch's ghost in the unhallowed portion of the cemetery, and barely escaping grisly death, among other things. But the focus isn't the darkness and death. Instead, Gaiman focuses on Bod's living, and though the protagonist is an odd boy, he's still a boy, filled with wonder, longings, fears, and even boredom.
The first and last stories bookend the rest with the details of Bod's origins. He's no ordinary boy, yet he's recognizable, someone readers can relate to and empathize with. The magic, the tongue-in-cheek humor, the ghosts and phantoms, these are all just settings for the much more important story of a young man growing up, and coming to realize that his place is with the living and not with the dead.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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