Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. Illus. Dave McKean. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.
In Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a baby boy escapes the gruesome demise of the rest of his family and wonders his way to the nearby graveyard, where Mr. and Mrs. Owens, both ghosts, adopt him as their son. Silas, in between the living and the dead, serves as his guardian and protector because Nobody (Bod) Owens’s destiny is not yet complete. The man, Jack, who killed his family, is still on the prowl for Bod, so that his secret organization is not threatened by the boy’s life. In this mysterious, thrilling story of ghosts and ghouls, the reader is catapulted into a dark and dismal world, in which light still finds a way to
Bod Owens lives in an unbelievable world in which he can see and speak to the dead, fade into the shadows, walk through walls, and visit others’ dreams; despite this, the reader can empathize with him. Bod struggles with living with the dead; he loves his graveyard family but also longs to be among the living.
Readers can identify with struggling to find one’s self and what it means to fit in the world. Furthermore, a kinship forms between Bod and his readers, so that his difficulties become the readers’ – readers sit on edge when the ghouls kidnap him, as well as when the Jacks hunt him down to kill him, and, in the end, the reader wishes Bod a safe journey as he embarks in a world that is largely unknown to him.
The Graveyard Book’s plot provides a new take on portrayed relationships between the living and dead, yet common fantasy elements survive. Bod must learn a new set of supernatural skills, such as fading and dreamwalking, he has inhuman guardians, he is pursued by a secret, villainous organization, and once his enemies are vanquished and he reaches a certain age, he must embark on his own. The consistency of plot elements allows the reader to dissolve into the book’s world and accept it for what it is. Moreover, the setting is an integral aspect of the novel and is necessary to the plot’s development. The story takes place in England, which is appropriate because it allows Bod’s graveyard to encase ancient, enigmatic remains from pagan times, which plays a necessary part of the plot.
Gaiman’s tale includes the typical theme of good overcoming evil, but it also delves more deeply into the human condition and what it means to be living. The play between Bod and his living and dead counterparts encourages one to reevaluate the ways in which he/she views and lives life. Ultimately, one should and must “face [one’s] life/its pain, its pleasure,/leave no path untaken” (306).
Lastly, Dave McKean’s ominous, inky illustrations reflect the morbid environment of the novel and give shape to the intangible. The grotesquerie of the ghoul gate on pages 62-3 is particularly intriguing in its shadows and wispy outlines.
#1 New York Times Bestseller
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Horn Book Honor
Hugo Award - Best Novel
This book could be read in conjunction with other ghost stories in order to compare and contrast.
Other Gaiman novels, such as Coraline, could be read.
Students could write their own ghost stories.