The Graveyard Book


Neil Gaiman


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

May 13, 2009

eil Gaiman is a talented storyteller. His stories always feature interesting characters and some sort of supernatural magic. The Graveyard Book is a Newberry Award winner - a Most Distinguished to American Literature for Children. I am not sure what the target age of this book is, very young children would probably find this book too scary.

The novel begins with a terrifying murder. An evil man named Jack slips into a house one night, and uses his knife to quietly slay the father, mother and older sister. Jack then turns his attention on the toddler boy, but the young lad has been wandering around the house that night, and he toddles out the door that Jack left open. When Jack finally figures that the boy is outside, he tracks him. But the boy has wandered into the town's graveyard, and the ghosts of the dead people have decided to take the boy into their care, to protect him from Jack. Jack has killed off everyone in the family but boy, but who lives hidden in graveyard. Rather dark material for the youngest readers, eh?

The ghosts give the name Nobody Owens to the boy. He grows up as a living human among a society of ghosts. The graveyard has other scary inhabitants. Silas has agreed to be the guardian of Nobody. Silas is not a ghost, but he is not alive either. You will have to draw your own conclusions of what Silas is, because Gaiman never spells it out, but Silas sleeps in a crypt and doesn't age nor does he have a reflection. When Silas has to leave the graveyard on unspecified business, he brings in a matronly figure called Miss Lupescu to watch Nobody. Of course, Miss Lupescu is more than she appears - the Latin word for wolf is lupus.

A witch is buried in the unhallowed part of the graveyard, and Nobody is warned to stay away from that corner of the graveyard, but of course he meets up with Elizabeth Hempstock. This story takes place in England, so the ghosts in the graveyard span centuries. The oldest graveyard inhabitant is a creepy entity called the Sleer, which exists deep under the earth guarding an old stone knife, a brooch, and a cup. But Nobody is not interested in the treasures, and he doesn't fear the Sleer.

As Nobody grows older, it becomes clear that he must interact with the humans outside the graveyard. Occasionally, he will spy on living people who come into the graveyard for picnics or visiting or solitude. One young girl named Scarlett is about the same age as Nobody, and he befriends her. The ghosts have taught Nobody skills such as disappearing, so no one else sees him, and Scarlett's mom thinks she has made an imaginary friend. But Scarlett moves away.

It becomes clear to Silas that Nobody must get an education and learn how to make his way in the world of the living. The graveyard inhabitants wish to protect Nobody from the evil man Jack, but Nobody can't stay in the graveyard forever. So Nobody ventures forth, and naturally Jack reappears at the end of the story.

Although this book is officially a "young adult" novel, it is interesting to a reader of any age. Gaiman once again delivers a good story. I wonder if this book will be made into a movie, like his previous story, Coraline.