The Graveyard Book is a composite novel made up of loosely connected chapters that tell the story of Nobody Owens, a living boy who is being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. The story starts when Nobody is a toddler and ends when he is around fourteen years old.
My favorite thing about Neil Gaiman’s children’s books is that he doesn’t write down to children. He knows that kids are intelligent and that they want smart, edgy, well-written literature. This book has murder and graveyards and great writing and all the things that I would have loved as a kid. None of it is graphic, but it is occasionally depressing. The illustrations are creepy in an awesome (non-scary) way. The writing style and word choices may confuse younger children, but they may be perfect for older kids or advanced readers. Some elements of the book—such as the structure—feel more like a novel for adults than for children.
Nobody “Bod” Owens is a sweet kid. He’s easy to like, even when he makes stupid decisions. I think he’s a believable child character. I really like the bond that he has with his ghost family. It’s obvious that Bod loves his family, and they love him, even though they are not a “traditional” family. Bod’s guardian, Silas, is my favorite character. He’s a vampire-ish creature who takes care of Bod and helps him when he gets in trouble. Unlike a lot of parents in children’s books, Silas is a very responsible and realistic guardian. He’s not perfect, but he does a good job of parenting Bod.
I love the characters and setting of this book, but I did get bored with other parts of it. It’s a composite novel, so each chapter feels more like a short story than a book chapter. Some parts of the book are very slow. Since there isn’t much of a plot, I wasn’t sure where this story was going, and I struggled to stay interested. I also wish that the villains had been better developed. Their motivation for killing Bod’s biological family is a little flimsy.
I don’t want to give away spoilers, but the ending is depressing. I understand that this book is about growing up, but Bod is fourteen at the end. He isn’t “grown up,” even if he thinks he is. I would have liked the ending more if he had been older.
The Graveyard Book is an interesting story for both adults and kids. It shows a healthy nontraditional family, which is wonderful. Children can relate to Bod’s struggles of growing up, and adults can relate to the challenges of helping a child grow up. If you can get past the slow bits, I think this would be a great book for a parent and child to read together.