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.
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.
“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.”
Published by HarperCollins, 2008