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Book Review of The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Book Type: Paperback
terez93 avatar reviewed on + 273 more book reviews

This first rate young adult novel is a twist on the traditional "ghost" story, whereby the reader is introduced to the world of the ghosts, a small, English graveyard populated by an entire "town" of spirits from many time periods, from ancient to modern. Their extraordinary world changes when one night, a toddler wanders into their graveyard, who has the uncanny ability to see them. As it turns out, the child's entire family was murdered by an unknown figure, who stalks the child into the graveyard, where he is hidden and protected by the multitude of friendly spirits. A childless couple then decides to adopt him, and names him Nobody Owens. They also enlist the assistance of an "un-living" figure, Silas, to provide for the child's material needs, as the ghosts can't leave the confines of the graveyard.

Young Bod is granted the Protection of the Graveyard, which means that he is bestowed with some of the spirits' supernatural powers, such as the ability to Fade, to instill Fear and to move with ease through the physical features of the cemetery. As the child grows, the graveyard becomes his whole world: nevertheless, he feels little deprived, as it takes a village to raise a child, and Bod has one - the whole community of ghosts, each with their own outlook on life and the afterlife, who instruct him in the various skills he needs to survive in the world of the dead and, eventually the world of the living. As with all of us, some new figures from the outside world occasionally make an appearance, including Scarlet, a five-year-old girl who finds Bod during her playtime in the cemetery, now a nature reserve, and Miss Lupesco, a werewolf enlisted to watch Bod while his physical guardian is away. More than any of the others, she begins his "formal" education, which includes geography, "languages" and other skills he will need to occupy the liminal space between life and death, and the world of the living and the world of the dead.

This beautifully written, poignant novel is full of the wisdom of the ages which even the young (and young at heart) will appreciate. (âYou're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.â; âIt'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.") Although it's definitely heavy material, it's full of important lessons, such as bravery, loyalty, and love of a supportive community, even an adopted one. It turns on its head the typical trope about graveyards as a scary and threatening place. The author even wrote about this, regarding how he composed the ending: he had seen a documentary about South American death squads. The segment told the story of a young girl who had hidden every night in a mausoleum, where the death squads were afraid to tread, which had saved her. The cemetery then became rather than a place of ominous foreboding, a place of safety and refuge.

The end is quite bittersweet, as Bod loses his ability when coming upon adulthood, and, subsequently, a loss of innocence, to see and engage with his spirit "family," and thus must go out into the Big World to make his mark. It appears that he can't go home again... at least until he has lived his life. Only then can he return home, if he chooses, for the last time. Some of the novel's themes, such as Bod's leaving home at long last, with a few bucks in his pocket, to make his way on his own, now far removed from the protection of his ghost adoptive parents, will be far more poignant and heartbreaking for adults than children, I'll wager, but readers of any age will thoroughly enjoy this book. One of my favorite passages, in fact, reads as follows: "I had set out to write a book about childhood... I was now writing about being a parent, and the fundamental most comical tragedy of parenthood: that if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won't need you anymore. If you did it properly, they go away. And they have lives and they have families and they have futures." Poignant, indeed.

This edition also includes some goodies for real fans: it features the acceptance speech the author gave when the book won the Newberry Prize, well deserved, as well as some handwritten pages of the original and some of the illustrations.