This first rate young adult novel is a twist on the traditional "ghost" story, whereby the reader is introduced to the world of the ghosts, a small, English graveyard populated by an entire "town" of spirits from many time periods, from ancient to modern. Their extraordinary world changes when one night, a toddler wanders into their graveyard, who has the uncanny ability to see them. As it turns out, the child's entire family was murdered by an unknown figure, who stalks the child into the graveyard, where he is hidden and protected by the multitude of friendly spirits. A childless couple then decides to adopt him, and names him Nobody Owens. They also enlist the assistance of an "un-living" figure, Silas, to provide for the child's material needs, as the ghosts can't leave the confines of the graveyard.
Young Bod is granted the Protection of the Graveyard, which means that he is bestowed with some of the spirits' supernatural powers, such as the ability to Fade, to instill Fear and to move with ease through the physical features of the cemetery. As the child grows, the graveyard becomes his whole world: nevertheless, he feels little deprived, as it takes a village to raise a child, and Bod has one - the whole community of ghosts, each with their own outlook on life and the afterlife, who instruct him in the various skills he needs to survive in the world of the dead and, eventually the world of the living. As with all of us, some new figures from the outside world occasionally make an appearance, including Scarlet, a five-year-old girl who finds Bod during her playtime in the cemetery, now a nature reserve, and Miss Lupesco, a werewolf enlisted to watch Bod while his physical guardian is away. More than any of the others, she begins his "formal" education, which includes geography, "languages" and other skills he will need to occupy the liminal space between life and death, and the world of the living and the world of the dead.
This beautifully written, poignant novel is full of the wisdom of the ages which even the young (and young at heart) will appreciate. (âYou're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.â; âIt's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.") Although it's definitely heavy material, it's full of important lessons, such as bravery, loyalty, and love of a supportive community, even an adopted one. It turns on its head the typical trope about graveyards as a scary and threatening place. The author even wrote about this, regarding how he composed the ending: he had seen a documentary about South American death squads. The segment told the story of a young girl who had hidden every night in a mausoleum, where the death squads were afraid to tread, which had saved her. The cemetery then became rather than a place of ominous foreboding, a place of safety and refuge.
The end is quite bittersweet, as Bod loses his ability when coming upon adulthood, and, subsequently, a loss of innocence, to see and engage with his spirit "family," and thus must go out into the Big World to make his mark. It appears that he can't go home again... at least until he has lived his life. Only then can he return home, if he chooses, for the last time. Some of the novel's themes, such as Bod's leaving home at long last, with a few bucks in his pocket, to make his way on his own, now far removed from the protection of his ghost adoptive parents, will be far more poignant and heartbreaking for adults than children, I'll wager, but readers of any age will thoroughly enjoy this book. One of my favorite passages, in fact, reads as follows: "I had set out to write a book about childhood... I was now writing about being a parent, and the fundamental most comical tragedy of parenthood: that if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won't need you anymore. If you did it properly, they go away. And they have lives and they have families and they have futures." Poignant, indeed.
This edition also includes some goodies for real fans: it features the acceptance speech the author gave when the book won the Newberry Prize, well deserved, as well as some handwritten pages of the original and some of the illustrations.
While I enjoyed reading the story of Bod and seeing him grow up, it wasn't until the end that I realized I would need more to make this truly satisfying.
Some things are never fully explained and maybe that was the intent...to allow young readers to come up with their own ideas about things such as the Jacks of All Trades and the Honour Guard. Had I read this when I was the "intended age" I have no doubt I would've played at being a boy in the graveyard (probably in an actual graveyard), chatting with spirits and hiding from assassins.
However, I didn't like the mystery around the events that set the story in motion. We never find out why Bod's entire family was targeted other than a vague mention of an ancient prophecy.
Desire for more background aside, it managed to keep me wanting to see what was around the next bend. There are some wonderful scenes: the ghoul gate, the Danse Macabre and especially Bod's leaving the graveyard.
It seems open for a sequel and I'm curious to see what would become of Bod in the outside world.
A great read and certainly different from what is expected
Miss Lupescu (shape shifter), Scarlett (Bods first live friend), and Liza Hempstock (deceased witch) are some of my favorite characters. As Bod ages, he learns about ghouls, school bullies, and eventually the man who killed his first family.
I love this book for many reasons. Neil Gaiman does an excellent job of showing that not all scary things are inherently evil. Each chapter shows yet another facet of the world of the graveyard and those experiences shape Bod as he grows into a young man. I would jump for joy if Gaiman wrote a follow up novel exploring Bods life after this book.
This book is enchanting. It's a mixture of Alice in wonderland, Harry potter, and the Hobbit. While this book is actually intended for "tweeners" and young adults, it's one of the best I've read in a while. Each adventure is original nd frought with its owm scariness and humor. Highly recommended.
Absolutely loved this book.
You are hooked from the first chapter and will continue to read through if possible.
Engaging and delightful.
Intriguing characters and manner of script that makes one think differently about life, death and the in between. Humorous in a twisted way but also thought provoking in others. Well thought out and a great read all the way around. Very glad a friend suggested it and happy to have read this book.