Review of “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

It was ironic for me that I started this book for young adults right after finishing Her Fearful Symmetry, because I kept detecting parallels between the two books. It was fun to discover in the “Acknowledgments” following the story, that Gaiman actually mentions a debt to Audrey Niffenegger.

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The Graveyard Book tells the story of Nobody Owens, whose family was murdered at home when he was a toddler of 18 months. The boy wandered through the open door and up to the cemetery, where the dead decided to rescue him and raise him. The long-dead Mr. and Mrs. Owens become his parents, and the mysterious wise and kindly Silas, who isn’t quite either dead or alive, becomes his guardian.

The evil killer we know for most of the story only as “Jack” still wants to find the boy and eliminate him, but we don’t learn why until the end.

As Nobody, or “Bod,” grows up, he goes through both typical and atypical coming of age moments, since for the most part he is prevented from leaving the graveyard (for his own protection). As a sort of honorary dead person, he is able to “walk the borderland between the living and the dead,” experiencing the supernatural world that the living know nothing about. When he reaches adolescence, his world undergoes a huge metamorphosis, and it is time to meet his destiny with the skills he has learned in the graveyard.

Discussion: The graveyard in this book has much in common with the one central to Her Fearful Symmetry. Gaiman also acknowledges his debt to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and I assume this references at least in part the story of Mowgli, who was raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle. I think there is even a bit of “Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom” in this book.

The dead characters in the cemetery – the ordinary people, not the supernatural aberrations – are quirky and most likable. Bod too is extremely likeable. But most of the other living characters besides Bod are not. I don’t know quite what to make of that!

Evaluation: My reaction to this book was mixed. I thought the very beginning was a bit scary, with the whole family being killed. I didn’t like the section with the ghouls in this book; I didn’t find it scary, but rather, silly. But I can see how this part might appeal to younger readers. I very much liked the frequent lessons, subtly told, that fear is a mental construct that can be conquered by knowledge. I didn’t like that many aspects of the story simply were never explained; it was as if Gaiman was trying to avoid spoilers of his own book!

I grew to like the characters in this story, but never quite love them. We never really know enough about them to feel a strong attachment. This in turn limited my emotional investment in the book.

Favorite quote:

“Silas said, ‘Out there, the man who killed your family is, I believe, still looking for you, still intends to kill you.’

Bod shrugged. ‘So?’ he said. ‘It’s only death. I mean, all of my best friends are dead.’

‘Yes.’ Silas hesitated. ‘They are. And they are, for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential.”

Rating: 3/5

Published by HarperCollins, 2008

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22 Responses to Review of “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

  1. I would have to read this during the day with the lights on and the sun out.
    LOL

  2. Sandy says:

    Haha! Pretty soon, Jill, you will be caught up with the rest of the world on just about everything! I read this book aloud to my kids, and we all had fun with it. (My mom was HORRIFIED, after she had read the first chapter! Hee hee.) Unlike just about any other book I’ve read with them, they would beg me to stop what I was doing and read to them. The whole premise was very strange, but I think with kids, that is the appeal.

  3. Janel says:

    I’d like to get this to read for myself and then pass it on to my kids. At my kids’ elementary school library we have at least 8 shelves full of scary mysteries – Jonathan Rand Chillers books and Goosebumps. The older kids love them!

  4. Steph says:

    I had a similarly mixed reaction to the book as you did – felt there were quite a few loose threads left, and I also couldn’t help compare it to Harry Potter (which I think is ultimately the richer and more rewarding read!). But, it was certainly a fun book to read aloud in the car, even without any children in sight!

  5. You may be the last person to read this one, from my point of view. I will pass on it. I really enjoyed your evaluation, however. I always thought authors wrote the acknowledgements for family but now I see they write it for sharp-eyed reader/reviewers.

  6. I think it’s so interesting that you didn’t like the ghoul section. I loved it. I loved the banter between the ghouls and how they were named. I enjoyed how Bod grew to realize that there are reasons why he is told not to go somewhere or do something other than to make him miserable (waiting for my kids to figure that one out – LOL!). It just goes to show you that each reader brings something different to reading a book. I appreciate your review a lot, Jill.

  7. Alyce says:

    That is a great quote! The book doesn’t really appeal to me that much though because I generally veer away from anything having to do with ghosts, ghouls and the like. Her Fearful Symmetry was a rare departure for me.

  8. Darlene says:

    I’ve been going back and forth on reading this one and I’m still not sure. I also have Her Fearful Symmetry to read. I think I may be the last person ever to read that one pretty soon. lol. Thanks for the review.

  9. Julie P. says:

    Interesting review. You aren’t the last person to read this one either! I haven’t read any Gaiman.

  10. bermudaonion says:

    I was hoping you would love the book more than that. I haven’t read this book yet, even though I’ve had it since May.

  11. claire says:

    I really enjoyed this, but also didn’t completely love it either. So far, all Gaiman’s books that I’ve read had the same effect. They have never really captured me in a way favourite books/authors have. Still, they’re a lot of fun to read.

  12. Staci says:

    I LMAO off when I read your ending sentence:
    Note to readers: This review is part of my ongoing series, “Probable Last Person in the Universe to Have Read This Book.” That is too funny!! I haven’t read it yet but not sure if I want to or not!

  13. softdrink says:

    Confession time: I cried at the end. I’m such a sap.

  14. Lisa says:

    Sounds like you had the same reaction to this Gaiman as I had to the short stories of his “Fragile Things.” I wanted to like it but….

  15. Aarti says:

    I like how you say at the end of so many of your reviews that you’re the last person ever to have read a book… that I usually haven’t read yet! I just picked this book up this week and am looking forward to reading it, mostly because I think Gaiman is a genius. I’ll keep your reservations in mind, however.

  16. Biblibio says:

    I can sort of understand where someone might not like “The Graveyard Book” very much, but I happened to think it’s brilliant (like most of Gaiman’s work). Well, diversity in thought is what makes the world slightly more interesting, I suppose.

    As for the ghouls, I found them to be rather endearing. I’m not fully sure they were meant to be scary, but I also wouldn’t call them simply silly, though again I see where you’re coming from… Have you read “Coraline”?

  17. susan says:

    I like Gaiman but not surprised that this didn’t quite work and I say that because my experience has been that the more prolific an author is the higher the risk and incidence of them disappointing us. I’m definitely going to listen rather than read this one. I prefer Gaiman on audio. He’s a fantastic storyteller.

    Thanks for the review.

  18. Ti says:

    I went through my bookshelves today and found this book. My son started it and was turned off by the first few pages. My son is very picky apparently. I’d like to read it just to see what the fuss is about.

  19. rebeccareid says:

    I recently read it too. I also thought the beginning scary, but more in a Roahl Dahl way. I don’t think kids would be too scared, and I think they’d be connected to the characters.

    I couldn’t put it down when I read it! I enjoyed it very much but not an all time favorite for me.

  20. Jenners says:

    Your comment about avoiding spoilers in his own book gave me a chuckle. And I’ve never read any Neil Gaiman but so many bloggers seem gaga over him!

  21. Rebecca,

    You know, I think you’re so right that adults would find that first chapter scarier than kids would. Because adults know that it could happen! But I think they try to protect their children from knowing bad things like that, so the kids could approach it more the Dahl way. Excellent point!

  22. Michele says:

    Love the quote you chose here. I only read this in October (thinking I was the last person in the universe to read it). I only had his book Coraline for comparison, not having read Her Fearful Symmetry yet, and The Graveyard Book fared much better than Coraline for me, anyway. I like your review here, though, and completely understand the points you made….all valid, that’s for sure.

    I wonder what other books we are the last people on earth to read, LOL (and I just butchered that sentence)?

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