The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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I picked up The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman partly because it won the Newbery Medal, and I have a goal to read all the winners of that award. I also chose it for the RIP IV Challenge.

This was my first Gaiman novel. Despite the fact that bloggers seem to have a special fondness for Gaiman, I just never felt inclined to give his books a read. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy (I’m not sure why) and I’m also less inclined to read something just because the crowd is reading it.

That said, I was amazed by this book. I sat and read the first 25 pages or so in the library after I picked it up, while my son played with the puzzles in the children’s area. It was engaging. So at about 9:30 or 10 p.m., I thought I’d read a little more to help me fall asleep.

I stayed up to finish it.

I never do that. My son awakes between 6 or 7 a.m. no matter what time I go to bed, so I’m usually eager to get my sleep. But there was something about The Graveyard Book that kept my attention. There’s something about the world and characters Gaiman creates that is familiar and fun. Although The Graveyard Book takes place (appropriately enough) in a graveyard and the main character is a boy raised by ghosts and the undead, it was familiar to me and yes, it was fun. How did Gaiman do that? I’m not sure.

I think Gaiman’s mastery is of the familiar story-telling tone. It is written in such an easily accessible tone that I couldn’t help but turn the page to find out what happens next. The stories are interesting as well. We are not familiar with life in a graveyard, but Bod’s little adventures with the ghosts that reside there are told in a way that I want to know what comes next. Overall, it was incredibly well done.

All that said, I think parents should read this book before handing it to young kids, for it does have scary themes that not all children could deal with. Nobody Owens (Bod) is raised in a cemetery, with his main guardian a vampire. (If you read my recent post on Dracula, you’ll know that I’m not keen on vampires.) There is also a scary creature (called a Sleer) in a tomb that may disturb children, and ghouls kidnap Bod.

The scariest parts, however, revolve around the humans that are trying to kill him. The first sentence jarred me (a man with a knife), and the entire first chapter is about how a scary man murders a family, minus the baby who escapes (the infant Bod). The underlying plot of that first chapter is incredibly sinister, and yet it doesn’t seem scary. The murder returns in a later chapter, and Bod is truly a child in danger.

I’m not saying children shouldn’t read this book. The non-scary tone reminded me of Roald Dahl’s books (which I haven’t read since I was a child). Dahl’s books had scary and supernatural elements, but there were overall lots of fun. The Graveyard Book felt similar in playfulness, despite the murderer and ghost setting.

Apparently, Gaiman was inspired by The Jungle Book (reviewed here) to write The Graveyard Book. I can see the resemblance, as some of the plot elements (the kidnapping, the return to society) were similar. I can’t say which I prefer; I enjoy both of them. I just hope Gaiman doesn’t try to write a sequel to The Graveyard Book. It’s great as it is (and sequels ruin good things for me).

If you have reviewed The Graveyard Book on your blog, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here. (I just grabbed the first few I found; there are tons more out there!)

Other Reviews:

Book Review # 50 – The Graveyard Book

Friday, April 24, 2009

“The Graveyard Book”


Neil Gaiman

Front Flap: “Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy–an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack–who has already killed bod’s family….”

The Graveyard Book” is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. I enjoyed it, even though it was weird and quirky. The story begins with a man named Jack walking through a home, killing first the parents, then bod’s brother. Bod, even though a toddler, somehow manages to climb out of his crib and wander out the open door, while Jack kills his family. The killings are not graphically depicted but implied. The writing is very well done and paints a picture

“The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.” (pg 5 – 7)

Bod wanders up and into a graveyard where the ghosts and other denizens of the place decide to protect him. Of course, they have to put it to a vote first.

“A graveyard is not normally a democracy, and yet death is the great democracy, and each of the dead had a voice, and an opinion as to whether the living child should be allowed to stay, and they were each determined to be heard that night.” pg 29

Bod is raised by the ghosts and Silas, who neither dead or alive, protects him and makes sure his physical needs for food and dress are taken care of. Bod gets an interesting education in history and thought from various ghosts from the different eras as well as lessons in slipping through shadow and fading from awareness, “the ways of the dead”.

“Bod tried again. He closed his eyes and imagined himself fading into the stained stonework of the mausoleum wall, becoming a shadow on the night and nothing more. He sneezed.

“Dreadful”, said Mr. Pennyworth, with a sigh. “Quite dreadful. I believe I shall have a word with your guardian about this.” He shook his head. “So, the humors. List them.”

“Um, Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, And the other one. Um, Melancholic, I think.”

“And so it went, until it was time for Grammar and Composition with Miss Letitia Borrows, Spinster of this Parish (Who did No Harm to No Man all the Dais of Her Life. Reader, Can you Say Lykewise?) Bod liked Miss Borrows, and the coziness of her little crypt, and that she could all-too-easily be led off the subject.” pg 106

Throughout the story, Jack never ceases to look for Bod and finish the job he started. The villains (the Jacks of all Trades) reasons in the story for killing bod’s family and him are a bit vague and I’ll leave the mystery of what happened to your imaginations.

I thoroughly enjoyed “The Graveyard Book” and look forward to reading more stories by Neil Gaiman. His books are intriguing, imaginative and entertaining. Even though they are written for the 9 – 12 year old age group, they are enjoyable for adults to read as well. Highly Recommended.

Pages: 320 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Other thoughts about the book:

Michelle of 1morechapter:
The Graveyard Book contains a colorful (though some are long dead) cast of characters, some very creepy scenes, and some genuinely heartwarming ones.”

Em of Em’s Bookshelf:
The Graveyard Book is pure delight from start to finish. This is the first book that I’ve read by Gaiman and, after the first couple of pages, I knew that I was in the hands of a master storyteller.”

Rob of Robaroundbooks:
“It entertained me completely and as a reader who normally gets his kicks from the more dense prose of writers such as Steinbeck, Dostoevsky and Hamsun etc. that’s a big achievement. Bearing that in mind I’m confident that The Graveyard Book will entertain just about anyone.”

Penny of Penny’s Pages

Reviewed on October 12, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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  1. So glad that you enjoyed this, Rebecca! I am one of the many bloggers who love Neil Gaiman and think that he is undoubtedly one of the best storytellers alive. If you can, try to listen to something of his in audio as he also has one of the best narrating voices and read his adult work.

    I was lucky enough to hear him read aloud from The Graveyard Book last Hallowe’en (and sign my copy, complete with a drawn gravestone with my name on it!) and it was fantastic.

  2. I hope I enjoy this. Gaiman’s more hit or miss for me, but I tend to like his YA-and-younger stuff. I just hope it gets here in time for the readathon!

  3. We read this on our way back from our honeymoon (well, I read it aloud in the car!), and reviewed it back in July:

    Like you, I haven’t read much Gaiman in the past (just one other book which I didn’t care for very much at all), but I did like this a good deal. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as you did, mostly because I couldn’t help comparing it to Harry Potter and finding it came up short, but it was certainly an entertaining yarn.

  4. I’ve got this one waiting for me at the library at this very moment. I reserved the audiobook format, so I hope it’s just as engaging as the your experience with the actual book.

  5. I’ve not read this particular Gaiman book but I do like him very much. I have read an excerpt, he includes a chapter of the book in his short story book M is for Magic and I was enchanted. I look forward to getting to Graveyard Book one of these days!

  6. JT, it’s lots of fun!

    Claire, awesome story of meeting Gaiman!! Wow! I agree, it’s the story-telling aspect that made this great. I was going to listen to the audio but the cd was scratched so I went back to the library and got the book.

    Amanda, great read-a-thon choice! I gave myself a mini-read-a-thon the night I read it!

    Steph, I do remember seeing your review. Off to add it! I put the title in Fyrefly’s search and seriously a hundred came up, so I just got the first ones I saw.

    I found it completely different from Harry Potter so I didn’t find myself comparing at all! Very good though!

    Stephanie, I was going to listen to the audio — Gaiman does it himself and it has won awards — but the CD was scratched so it wouldn’t play so I went with the physical book this time around. I hope you enjoy it!!

    Trisha, I’m thinking yes….

    debilyn, thanks so much! Off to check out your blog too! Welcome to blogging!

    Stefanie, Graveyard Book was set up as short stories for the most part. It has an underlying plot, but overall each chapter could stand alone. I’m looking forward to more Gaiman!

  7. I’m not a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Like you, I have no idea why. His one book that I have read (and finished) is Coraline. I loved it! I listened to it on CD with my bonus boys and they were incredibly creeped out 😉

    I’m interested in reading this book, but it seems I have to be in a very particular mood to pick up Gaiman.

  8. Cara, thanks! I’ll link to yours!

    Tracie, maybe we’re both just trying to resist following the crowd? I guess the crowd has a reason, huh? I’m looking forward to Coraline now!

    Kathy, I hope you love it!

    Vasilly, a good read-a-thon choice!

    Ladytink, I’ll add a link to yours!

    Literate Housewife, wow, a month of Gaiman! I hope it’s fun!

    Michelle, I’ll add a link to yours!

  9. I have to admit that I didn’t love this book as much as other people did. I had the same reservations you had before reading it, but mine were realised. I will ensure my boys get to read this when they are a bit older, but it was a bit too basic for me to enjoy.

  10. I was just gathering reviews for my review of this book, and saw your note on Bod’s guardian being a vampire. I had no idea! I didn’t pick up on that at all. Maybe it’s just because it was fast readathon reading, but seriously I just never picked up on that. That completely blows me out of the water. 😀

  11. Jackie, I read it as entertainment for myself, not for my son. It reminded me of Roald Dahl in “scariness” though: It was light-hearted scariness. I enjoyed Dahl without being scared as a kid, so I would suspect older kids would be okay with this too.

    Amanda, I read this right after Dracula, so the hints were made obvious to me! glad to hear it’s easy to miss, since the idea bothers me…

  12. I was wondering if any of you could explain why you found Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” so fascinating? I read it recently but I do not understand why everyone likes it so much. Is it the metaphor of adulthood, the mysterious characters or the irony of the boy’s name…? I feel as if everyone is enjoying a desert and I am the odd one out who finds it unappetizing.

  13. Kirsty, I enjoyed it because it seemed light-hearted all the while it took place in a cemetery of all places, and I found Gaiman’s story-telling ability to be very impressive. I also enjoyed seeing how Bod grew up: his development was realistic to me.

    But I am one who does not often enjoy the book everyone else enjoys, so I completely understand where you are coming from. Don’t feel like the odd one out–just go on to the next book and forget about it. I hope you enjoy your next book more!

  14. Thank you Rebecca for replying! Now I better understand why someone would enjoy the book. I bet if I read it again it might not appear as dark as it did the first time I read it.

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