I stood in an empty aisle staring at a shelf stacked with books. I am again waiting for one to call onto me. I need a good book, something that will take me far and something that is written by someone familiar. I needed something that isn’t a chore, nothing too weighty yet still earnest. I paced a little farther, wondering what I might be keen for. And there it was, not on a shelf but on a table, a paperback with someone recognizable as an author.
It called onto me long before reading the spine. And after realizing the title and author, I paid for it with the understanding that this book is meant for children. But I’m a Gaiman fangirl, so whatever genre it serves I welcome it with childlike enthusiasm.
Someone killed the young Dorian’s family and he should have been included as well. But the night he’s supposed to join his family in the afterlife, he decided to take a stroll. Our story opens with a murder and a one-liner that sells the idea to the curious (“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife). The Graveyard Book aptly starts where the dead rests and where the living’s all too known fear collide – at a cemetery.
Jack’s orders were to kill the family of four. But with some twist of fate, he only ended with three. The young child who wandered in the graveyard had been entrusted to its inhabitants before his mother followed the light and journeyed where his son cannot follow. It is then decided that the child will be named Nobody Owens. Nobody because no one knows who he really is and Owens because the Owenses of the 18th century, who never had a child, came to a decision to keep him. Acting as his corporeal guardian is Silas; given that he is the only undead but not alive, he can leave the graveyard at his will. He appointed himself responsible for bringing the child food.
As Nobody, or Bod, grows up, he learns that he can’t leave his home because it’s much too dangerous for him. Although he is not the same as everybody else, he realizes that he is very much loved and protected. His parent’s strict rule of not leaving the graveyard does not make him a bitter child. Instead, he redirects his days with bemused inquisitiveness, scouring every plot, nooks and crannies, and souls that inhabits the graveyard. He picks up lessons from the dead (The Fade, Dreamwalking and The Fear) and although it proves challenging, he insists his time over unusual education. But something beyond the gates of the graveyard caught his attention, a young girl by the name of Scarlett.
While the world he lives in is unknown to the little girl, Bod allows her to see the life that is so different from others. He starts to share and learns the value of friendship. From here, we see Bod’s distinct personality as opposed to his quality as a child surrounded by the dead. With a tangible playmate that is as vulnerable as he is, he explores the world akin to a child’s eye. However, the story with Scarlett will be cut short because of decisions made by her parents. With deep sadness, Bod will bid farewell to his first and perhaps only human friend.
It seems that the story about a boy with a murdered family raised by ghosts is a perfect ingredient for the macabre, yet Gaiman painted it skilfully. The story highlights human triumph about the fact that one can live outside the normal confines and rules of society. The book is episodic and sometimes disconnected to the previous events yet we see the progress of Bod as a child to young adult. Committing many mistakes all too familiar to kids, we understand and empathize with his heartaches and confusions. Bod effortlessly reveals the true source of his actions.
Surprisingly enough, our young protagonist mirrors our own childhood. We remember how it is to say goodbye to your first best friend, to argue with your parents, the need to run away, the feeling of not being understood or trusted, and the first ache of a broken heart. We are also reminded how intrepid and un-episodic our young life has been.
The Graveyard Book will be fondly turned from page to page as it is aided by Dave McKean. His illustrations links the visions just as the author thought it to be. Although the setting is placed on the dark confines of the dead’s resting place, the drawings shimmer with intention to catch the fancy and interest of every reader. It is imaginative and shifts the book’s tone fluidly.
Gaiman never fails. He has an outrageous imagination well weaved to dizzying coherence that it comes off as every Gaiman masterpiece is – bedazzling. It is rich with sensibility and excitement that evokes a journey in one’s head as you read along. Somehow, Gaiman has never left the receptivity of young children and the things that astound and catch our attention. His astute writings about growing up and freedom is honest, heart-warming, and although set in the graveyard, undaunted.
The Graveyard Book
Written by Neil Gaiman
Published by Harper Collins