Children's Literature, cross-over literature, English Literature, Fantasy, Horror Fiction, Hugo Award for Best novel, Neil Gaiman, Newbery Medal, Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Young Adult Literature
The Graveyard Book, follows in the tradition of Neil Gaiman’s other works; it is both familiar and refreshing with just the right amounts of dark characters and storylines contrasted by lightness and humor. The award winning young adult fantasy, tells the story adapted from Kipling’s classic book of short stories, The Jungle Book: a boy, Nobody, Bod Owens, lives in a graveyard, orphaned and alone, after losing his family. While many parallels can be drawn from the old version to the new, Gaiman uses elements of magic and horror, suitable for kids and adults to creatively and innovatively build a new foundation from old characters, plots and themes. The reader’s curiosity is piqued by this odd reinterpretation, which preserves essential themes from the original and adds more ways to enchant and delight.
Gaiman uses supernatural beings who surround and care for Bod in the graveyard to make the story more entertaining and show the reader what it means to be accepted when you are different. Living in a cemetery with no memory of his old life, the boy finds a new family among its inhabitants: ghosts, werewolves, witches, and ghouls. Gaiman’s more serious message about Bod’s differences and the way he is taken in by beings very distinct from humans, are, at times, happily overshadowed by the reader’s fascination with the silly and extraordinary depictions of Bod’s new parents. Gaiman’s imagination stands out as he describes the beings watching over Bod and teaching him a variety of lessons about life, death, and the supernatural world. Gaiman relays Bod’s inclusion as a member of an otherworldly family with lively portrayals of their interactions together, such as the lessons he gets about how to use their special abilities, like fading and dream walking. The reader is excited to picture the world the author envisions; and, the special powers Bod’s supernatural friends share, which eventually help him to navigate the outside world.
By giving Bod a unique way of life and new family in the graveyard, Gaiman draws the reader’s attention to a sharp divide between his old, human life, and his new environment among the paranormal, while also maintaining the story’s themes of coming-of-age and belonging. 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. The reader empathizes with Bod’s confusion: should he fulfill his curiosity and leave the graveyard or remain faithful to his family? The reader learns through Bod’s thoughts and desires that he needs more than his family can offer as he ages. 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 is helpful to a younger Bod who requires stability, but as he grows into young adulthood, he realizes that he needs humans in his life too. Despite the love he feels for his caretakers, the dead cannot provide the stimulation he desires
Bod’s journey is more thought provoking and multifaceted as the worlds of the living and supernatural collide. Gaiman uses older concepts to pave the way for his energetic new characters and storylines. Not many novels can be simultaneously fluffy and weighted, based on the perspective the reader chooses. Gaiman makes watching a boy grow fun and magical for any reader by including a graveyard and a group of unearthly creatures. Do you like fantasy? Science fiction? What are you waiting for?
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars