The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Genre: young adult, fantasy, paranormal
Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009), Newbery Medal (2009), and many more
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…
A lovely tale that sadly doesn’t awe me as the rest of Gaiman’s books I’ve read, perhaps because it is targeted at younger readers. It is a great middle grade book that opens up many questions about life and death, childhood, identity, love, morality, preconceptions, and friendship. It doesn’t go into Gaiman’s usual depth but it is still a satisfying read and a very inventive story. I’m sure children and teen will absolutely love it and it will make them think at the same time. It’s lovely this way but it just doesn’t reach the level of his adult literature – nor is it supposed to, but I’m rahter spoiled in this way and I expect more of the author. It’s still a great read, no question about it.
Nobody Owens is a very sympathetic character that just captured me. His openness about anything that comes his way is just refreshing. He’s adorable with his graveyard family but I love his relationship with the mysterious Silas the most. Silas is a vampire but it isn’t explicitly stated in the story, if I’m not mistaken. He’s far from the usual vampire – he’s a great mentor to the young boy and he’s the one who listens very closely to his wishes and desires, taking charge when the ghosts can’t wrap their minds about the reality of raising a living boy. Still, the ghostly family Bod acquires finds a way to contribute to his upbringing. They may teach him many old-fashioned things – from penmanship to language – but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that since the boy can always ask Silas if their teachings contradict each other.
His scary mentor in psychic powers is a werewolf Miri Lupescu. The fact that the boy can use some sort of psychic powers because he’s considered one of the graveyard folk was a cool dash of fantasy in an already fantastic tale. I’m just sorry some parts dragged for me and the final confrontation with the forces of evil that caused the boy to be raised by a full graveyard of dead people took its own sweet time.
The bad guys are scary enough, although I wasn’t sold on their motives. Jack is evil but he isn’t the greatest challenge Bod has to face. He’s got more problems solving the bullying at school when he finally convinces Silas to let him attend and live among the living. And figuring out how his friendship with Scarlett Perkins impacts his feud with Jack is a more pressing problem than anything else. I also wasn’t all too sure about the Sleer living under the graveyard. It came just at the right time to solve some problems for Jack but it felt a little like lazy writing. Oh, and the time Bod spends in the goblin world was just plain weird.
I book I’d recommend to younger readers, but it can be a nice relaxing read for grown-ups as well that will awe you with the fantastic blend of fantasy and bildungsroman for children.