“You aren’t allowed out of the graveyard…because it’s only in the graveyard that we can keep you safe. This is where you live and this is where those who love you can be found. Outside would not be safe for you. Not yet.”
In the dark of night, a man named Jack waits in the shadows and efficiently kills an entire family–all but the toddler, who had crept out of his crib during the night. The man desperately needs to kill the toddler; his fate rests on the death of the boy. However, the little one wanders away into the night, and into a nearby graveyard. When the spirits of his parents cry out to the ghosts of the cemetery and beg for them to protect him, they accept. Thus, Nobody Owens becomes a ward of the graveyard.
He’s raised by ghosts and learns their ways, including feats like Dreamwalking and Fading. They bring him books and food from the outside world, and warn him (just like normal parents) not to talk to people he doesn’t know. See, the man who killed his family is still alive and hunting for him. He’s only safe within the confines of the graveyard.
The story proceeds in episodes; each one can stand alone as a great short story, but they can also be woven together into a captivating narrative. While reading it, I kept thinking that the tone of the book reminded me a little of Eva Ibbotson, with a playful eye towards subjects like witchcraft, and a little like Audrey Niffenegger, with her stories about crumbly, mossy graveyards. It’s a really distinct voice; a little dry humor mixed with some elements of the underworld. Love it, love it! I can’t wait to share this book.
I learned that Gaiman was inspired by his own son, as he pedaled his tricycle around the cemetery. He said he started writing chapter four, and that the rest of the story took almost a decade to be born. I really think born is the right word here, too, because while you’re reading, you are coming across all of these sort of unrelated-seeming tales, and then they all wind together into this perfect ending. When you get to the ending, you see how everything was leading perfectly to the conclusion, and it seems so holistic and perfectly formed.
Oh, and pictures! Did I mention the illustrations? The book is interspersed with the black and white illustrations of Dave McKean. It’s a touch that reminds me of the Harry Potter books, a nice surprise waiting for you between the pages. Everything combines into something really special, which is why it’s not surprising that this book won the super trio of a Newbery and Carnegie medal, plus a Hugo award.
Author’s website: http://neilgaiman.com/
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. 307 pp. Grades 6-9.
I mentioned them in the post, but if you like this book (and you’re a fan of books for middle schoolers), try any of Eva Ibbotson’s stories, such as Which Witch or Island of the Aunts. They’re fun, have an irreverent and light tone to them that’s similar to this one. For adults, try Gaiman’s Neverwhere or Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. I read that book before I started blogging, but it’s a ghost story about twin girls in a haunted flat in London.