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 The Graveyard Book provides an eccentric interpretation of Kipling’s classic book of short stories, The Jungle Book.  At first the award winning young adult novel, penned by Neil Gaiman, seems an odd reinterpretation; it is the story of a boy who lives in a graveyard after the loss of his family. While many parallels can be drawn from the old version to the new, Gaiman’s text employs innovative and creative ways to convey characters, plots and themes. The reader is immediately drawn to the portrayals of characters and the techniques used to describe the plethora of traits belonging to each one.

Since the majority of story takes place in a graveyard, supernatural beings are essential components.  From the start the reader learns that Nobody Owens or Bod, the protagonist, is brought to the spirits of the graveyard as an infant by his mother, a ghost, after his parents and sister are murdered. The boy has no memory of his old life, thus ghosts, werewolves, witches, and ghouls become his family and teach him a variety of lessons about life, death, and the supernatural world. Gaiman makes the details of what life would be like in a cemetery come alive with special abilities and ideas Bod learns because he has a connection to the lifeless, such as fading and dream walking.  These special powers allow him to navigate the world of the living as he struggles to discover the murderer of his family.

Bod is grateful for his unique way of life and new family in the graveyard, but a few important pieces in his life remain missing. Bod needs to find the man who murdered his parents, or he can never safely leave the protected grounds of the graveyard to lead a normal life. The longer Bod stays away from the living world, forced to learn about it from a distance, the more he craves a place in it. Like any growing boy, he develops a curiosity and need to experience everything the world has to offer. Perhaps, more importantly, he craves human contact. He longs to hear humans breathing. Despite the love he feels for his caretakers, the dead cannot provide the stimulation he desires. Gaiman writes to express Bod’s thoughts and emotions, “In the graveyard, no one ever changed.“(p. 229) Both a blessing and a curse, this concept was helpful to a younger Bod who required stability, but as he grows into young adulthood, he realizes that he needs humans in his life too. The dead will remain stuck in the time period in which they lived and keep only the knowledge they had when they died. But is safe to leave? What will he discover on the outside?

As Bod is given more autonomy, he finds answers to his questions, but he also runs into trouble along the way. His story becomes a thought provoking and multifaceted journey as the worlds of the living and supernatural collide. Like all young people, Bod must come to understand the importance of those older and wiser than he is.  In a fashion difficult to predict, danger ensues and the secrets of his past including the reason he requires the protection of the undead come to light.

The combination of age old themes juxtaposed with new actions and abilities of ghosts, werewolves, and sleers, make for a fascinating reading experience. The older version of the tale paved the way for this new story.  Of course both have merit, and The Jungle Book is a classic, but The Graveyard Book does an exceptional job of conveying the message of alienation a person feels in an unfamiliar environment. Readers, both young and old, will appreciate and enjoy this novel.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

More information:

Other Gaiman books: The Sandman, Stardust, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), NeverwhereAmerican Gods, and Coraline


Stardust (2007)

Coraline (2009)

The Graveyard Book (pre-release)

TV Series:

American Gods (2013)