A boy lives in a graveyard and is raised by ghosts — what more could you want from a book for Halloween?
Following a supernatural spin on “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling, Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” follows the childhood of Nobody Owens as he grows up in a world inhabited by both the living and the dead.
The story begins — morbidly — with a man named Jack brutally murdering a family in their home in England. Thankfully, the youngest child escapes through an open door and wanders through the night into a cemetery. Entering the cemetery, the child finds ghosts sauntering on their nightly escapades. They sense something is amiss and save the boy from the pursuing murderer.
After a debate as to whether ghosts can raise a living boy, the mysterious Lady on the Grey — whom everyone meets in their own time — rides up on her giant horse and says that the dead must be charitable. With that, the debate ends, and Mr. and Mrs. Owens agree to adopt the child as their own. Not knowing his name and not being able to think of a better one, they give him the name of Nobody Owens — or “Bod” for short. He is also given a guardian: a man named Silas who is neither living nor dead and comes and goes from the graveyard as he needs.
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Now, as you can imagine, a boy growing up in a graveyard might draw some strange looks from the neighbors. To combat this, Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard, which means he can walk through locked doors and gates, as well as “fade” so humans can’t see him. He has many teachers preparing him for life outside of the graveyard one day and befriends various ghosts such as a witch who was burned at the stake, a roman man who is one of the oldest citizens of the graveyard and a boy who insisted that he be buried with a copy of “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe.
The story has an interesting take on ghosts, often portrayed as frightening. I don’t know if ghosts exist, and that’s beyond the scope of this review, but I did appreciate the approach Gaiman takes on them. They’re simply humans on the next stage of existence. Now, that’s not to say all the dead are friendly. There are the ghouls that seem to have taken a different approach in death as they have small, corrupted bodies and feed on rotting corpses. The ghouls take Bod through a portal to the city of Ghûlheim, where they intend to feed on him. Oh, no!
Eventually, Bod and his living friend, Scarlett, find out the man Jack who killed Bod’s family is a part of the secret organization called The Jacks of All Trades, and that Bod was the real target of the murderer who killed his family.
Why would people want to kill a child? Will those in the cemetery be able to save Bod? Will the Jacks accomplish their goal of killing Bod after searching for him for years? Well, you’ll have to find out when you read it!
I’m certainly not one for scary things or horror — I stay miles away from haunted houses, so the fact that I liked this book should tell you it’s not scary. Instead, “The Graveyard Book” is a fun read and a great introduction to Gaiman’s work. Bod is a humorous — if not a sometimes frustrating — main character to follow, and the other members of the graveyard bring in their own humor and wisdom throughout the story.
As Les Brown said, “The graveyard is the richest place on earth because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled.” Bod truly has the best mentors a child can have through those who have already lived and died to tell him the things they wish they had done in life. They provide sage advice for a boy coming up in the world and for us readers.
In all, “The Graveyard Book,” with its helpful and peculiar ghosts, its thoughts on this life and the next and Gaiman’s terrific storytelling, is a perfect read as you prepare to take on the haunts and Trick-or-Treaters of Halloween.