The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, is about Nobody Owens, called Bod, and his life growing up in a graveyard. When he was less than two years old, his entire family was killed. Bod escaped death by tottering out the front door of the house, walking up the hill and entering a graveyard. He is found there by the ghost of Mrs. Owens, a woman who lived over 300 years ago and who never had any children. She and her husband undertake to raise the boy they name Nobody Owens, with the help of the mysterious caretaker Silas. But, as one character says, raising a child "takes a graveyard" and every ghost must chip in, teaching Bod his alphabet, his numbers, how to Fade and walk through walls and how to Dreamwalk.
Bod grows up, in between the worlds of the living and the dead, friends with both sides but not quite fitting in with either. He wants to learn, but his guardians are worried of letting him outside the graveyard. He goes, anyway, and gets into some worrisome scrapes, inside and outside the graveyard. He gets abducted by ghouls. He meets a girl, and becomes her friend. He meets the man who killed his family. And throughout the book, he continues to grow and mature, though he keeps his innate and boundless kindness.
Eva claims she did not force me to read this book, but she certainly gave me a suggestive nudge in the right direction and I am grateful to her for that. Like all of Neil Gaiman's stories (that I've read, that is), The Graveyard Book is a deceptively straight-forward story that touches on so many deeper and beautiful levels. Yes, it's a coming-of-age story, but such a wonderfully atypical one. Bod is almost working through life backwards and upside-down; he is comfortable with death and with people who do not change. He is confounded by the living world, where people can be cruel and selfish. He has access to one set of loving parents, who are dead, but his real parents (also dead) are lost to him forever. Instead of growing up with the same friends, he changes friends in the graveyard as he grows up, finding ghosts that are nearer to his age.
But at the same time, Bod's story of growing up is much like everyone else's. He must set aside the excessive care that his parents and Silas have for him. He must step out of their overprotective zone and fend for himself. He must eventually grow out of seeing the people who are so important to him, because as a person grows, they lose the ability to communicate with the dead. And that is what is so powerful and heartbreaking, to me, about this novel. In life, parents often assume that they will leave the world before their children do, that they will see their child grow up and succeed and share those important moments with him. In The Graveyard Book, the ghosts have no such assurance. They know that Bod will eventually have to leave them, and that they may not see him again. But they all raise him, anyway. It is the same sort of parental sacrifice.
This is a lovely and elegant book. Bod and his extended family are so good, and so kind, that you just want to hug them all. Even the simplest lines would make me tear up, like when Bod stands up to a bully. "Stop behaving like other people don't matter. Stop hurting people." Bod is a character who stands tall and firm and I loved him.
I loved all the characters. They are all memorable and wonderful and I wish there was more of them in books everywhere. I want to know so, so much more about Silas. About Miss Lupescu. About the poor souls buried in unconsecrated ground, without so much as a headstone. Gaiman always leaves his readers wanting just a little bit more, never quite giving us the whole story. And I wish I had more time with all the fantastic characters of The Graveyard Book and that I could be their friend, but that cannot be so. I had to finish the book and leave them behind.