Author: Neil Gaiman
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: October 2014
Neil Gaiman stories fit into fall just as well as the pumpkin beer and apple crisp I’m enjoying. Whether it’s the playful creepiness of Coraline or the spastic underworld of Neverwhere, there are always more creatively dark corners to explore. The Graveyard Book sits on that special shelf between young adult and old adult…um, regular adult? It’s close to 300 pages but definitely appropriate for pre-teens. Sure, it starts with murder, but it doesn’t dwell there. The survivor of the murder is a toddler who wanders off to a graveyard by himself, and is adopted by its residents.
Ghost residents, of course. They agree to look after him and he becomes Nobody Owens. This is a coming-of-age tale about a boy wondering what lays outside the graveyard. The short answer is: the man who failed to kill him the first time. As he grows up he has a series of miniature adventures, such as learning some of the ghostly tricks, like Fading, bestowed upon him by the magic of the graveyard. Or stumbling into the weird red world of Ghûlheim, where the ghouls live their greedy lives. He has a few otherwordly protectors, and those hunting him are also not human.
It’s an accessible tale, one that could have sequels but thankfully does not. It’s delightfully Halloween-ish, more fun than scary. It paints the graveyard only as dangerous as the outside world, and never sinister in and of itself. But I think all this was a run-through for Mr. Gaiman. There is one character in this book who serves as the seed of what’s to come. A witch, Liza Hempstock, takes a particular interest in Nobody Owens and becomes the character who most directly verbalizes how he has grown up and must move on. She is presumably related to–or indeed, actually is–one of the Hempstock women in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. That work shares some similarities to The Graveyard Book, such as the young male protagonist who discovers deeper layers to the known world, yet the story is so fully realized that it soars. The person who reads Graveyard first and then Ocean shortly after will be well served by the wonders of this author.