Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book came highly recommended by my wife, who not so subtly hinted that I would really enjoy reading it. Since we now have a son who will be spending a significant amount of time walking through graveyards and cemeteries with us, I saw potential in it despite some initial reservations; namely I wasn’t that into the last book I read by this author (American Gods – yeah, I know, you disagree) and I was wary of picking up a YA title. Her persistence paid off, however, and I ultimately gave it a read.
The book follows the childhood adventures of Nobody (Bod) Owens, a boy who is orphaned in the first chapter after his family is murdered by a mysterious assassin. Although only a toddler, he was able to escape from harm by hiding in a local cemetery, where the ghostly denizens decided to take him in. Granted Freedom of the Graveyard, he is allowed both residence and certain powers within its domain. Through a variety of otherworldly teachers and caretakers, Bod learns about life and survival in the graveyard and beyond. Though there is an overall story, the book is divided into several episodic chapters each taking place at different years in boy’s life wherein he typically meets a new challenge and makes new discoveries and acquaintances. As the story progresses, Bod grows into a young adult and eventually faces the man responsible for killing his family.
So here’s the part where I say that I ended up enjoying this book a lot. It was a nicely told story that, despite a somewhat grisly opening chapter, was rather heartwarming and fun. The author did a good job conveying a sense of child-like wonderment and adventure throughout. I also really liked how the story came full circle by the end, with seemingly random bits and pieces from each chapter all coming together. The other characters, though used somewhat sparingly, were all interesting and each added something of value to the story. While this wasn’t a particularly deep novel, it was something that I am glad I took the time to read. I might even look at the cemeteries we walk through a bit differently as a result.