I used to live right across the street from a cemetery. Kids at school seemed to think it was creepy to live so close to the dead, but I never knew why: in my view, dead people were the only ones who were absolutely certain not to harm you. I went sledding there in winter, and reading there in summer — it was like a small, peaceful park.
But even I was not so much at home in the graveyard as Nobody Owens, the hero of Neil Gaiman’s latest young adult novel, The Graveyard Book. As the book opens, Bod’s entire family is murdered by a mysterious and extremely frightening killer, for reasons unknown. Bod, a baby just beginning to walk, is supposed to be killed, too, but he escapes, toddling up the hill to the local graveyard. There, he’s adopted by ghosts — it takes a graveyard to raise a child — and given a vampire guardian, Silas. The rest of the book is Bod’s adventures as he grows up, finds his way along the border between the living and the dead, and tries to find out who murdered his family (and is still looking to finish the job.)
If you’ve read Gaiman’s Coraline, one of his other books for children, you’ll have a sense of the atmosphere of this book. While it’s genuinely creepy and scary — and not just for a kid’s book — it also has a wonderful dark sense of humor and moments of camaraderie and poignancy that lighten the tension.
As I was reading, I noticed something about the structure and tone of the book. I got more and more excited, thinking, “This is just like The Jungle Book! Look, this scene, and this one — and Silas could be Bagheera — and the killer could be Shere Khan!” Even the title was the same. I felt very clever until I read the epilogue, when Gaiman acknowledges his debt to Kipling. But the similarities make the book deeper and more fun to read.
I finished this book hoping there’d be more stories about Bod. (Or that he’d meet Coraline, who would probably understand his issues better than most.) While I would never give this book to any actual child of my acquaintance (much too scary), I loved my trip to the cemetery, and I hope I can make more in the future.