Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel for children not only shows ghosts as the good guys, but also reveals a truly terrifying enemy (hint… it’s man). The story begins when out protagonist Nobody (Bod) Owens is just a baby. His parents are murdered and the killer cannot succeed in killing Bod too because graveyard ghosts adopt and protect him. While this premise seems a bit dark for children, the murders are background and Bod’s adventures growing up in the graveyard fill the story with a dark, fantastic, whimsy. Bod deals with the occasion werewolf, ghoul, vampire, and of course the totally frightening creatures known as little girls throughout his story.
Gaiman masterfully handles the tough task of fitting all the spectacular things that can happen to a boy growing up in a graveyard into just one book by making each chapter seem like a self-contained tale. The chapter titles, like “How Nobody Came to the Graveyard”, “The Witch’s Headstone”, and “Every Man Jack” all are pieces that build up to the ultimate conclusion, but also are their own insular work. The end of a chapter feels like an end of a story, which provides a perfect stopping point for parent’s reading to their children. The Graveyard Book can easily be the bedtime book. Although even parents might want to stay awake and finish this engaging and quick read.
The Graveyard Book is not just about the scare, but also builds subtle tension that carries throughout the entire novel. Readers will enjoy watching Bod work his way out of situations as he figures out how to navigate not only life in the graveyard, but life in general.
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
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 the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.”