Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I heard a public radio interview with Neil Gaiman where he mentioned that the the original idea for The Graveyard Book (2008) came from seeing his 2-year old son riding a tricycle through a cemetery.  I knew I had to read this book since I live adjacent to a park-like cemetery and often take my toddler there for walks.  After waiting a long time to get the book from the library wait list, it did not disappoint.

The book tells the story of a boy raised by the spirits of graveyard denizens after his family is murdered in a terrifying opening chapter.  Named Nobody Owens, or Bod for short (for after all he’s the only one in the graveyard with a body), the boy grows up with ghosts, vampires, werewolves and other spooks as family and friends.  Gaiman is wonderfully imaginative in creating the graveyard society where people from different eras (dating back to Roman times) interact but remain true to their times.  There’s also a social divide between those buried in the graveyard proper and those in the potter’s field and the witches and suicides in unconsecrated ground.  Interesting too is that the dead are frozen at the age they died so while they don’t change their relationship with Bod changes as he grows older.

The novel develops episodically, each chapter a self-contained story of Bod at a different age.  In these stories Bod encounters frightening and magical aspects of the world of the dead, makes his first tentative excursions into the living world, and under the most extraordinary circumstances Bod deals with the ordinary concerns of a growing boy.  My favorite story is the sweet tale of Bod trying to make a grave marker for a young witch executed centuries earlier.

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with the conclusion.  Without giving away too much it involves a prophecy and an ancient secret society and is just too neat and tidy.  In a book full of the supernatural this part defied by suspense of disbelief.  Yet, I think The Graveyard Book transcends this narrative problem as it is both wonderfully fresh and imaginative and yet seemingly steeped in old-fashioned story telling tradition. In an afterword, Gaimain mentions that the book is modeled on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book which may contribute to it’s timeless quality.  This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and an invitation to read more of Gaimain (I’ve previously read Good Omens which Gaiman co-authored with Terry Pratchett).The graveyard book / Neil Gaiman ; with illustrations by Dave McKean.

Publisher: New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, c2008.
ISBN: 9780060530921 (trade bdg.)
0060530928 (trade bdg.)
9780060530938 (reinforced) : $18.89
0060530936 (reinforced) : $18.89
Description: 312 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Edition: 1st ed.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

  1. Hi,
    I’m a teacher librarian for a K – 6 school and am wondering if this book would be appropriate for our school. I can’t seem to find any age level rating for this book thanks.
    It sounds like a great book.


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