Wait, wait, all right. Dude. Let’s take like The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and retell it, but like instead of making it a story about an orphan boy raised by the creatures of the jungle let’s have the kid grow up in a graveyard. So instead of a python we’ll have a vampire. And instead of baboons we’ll have ghouls. And instead of a bear we’ll have a …a werewolf. Dude.
All glibness aside, that’s actually a pretty cool idea and I’m glad that author Neil Gaiman got it, because I liked The Graveyard Book quite a bit. As I said, it kind of takes The Jungle Book concept and switches it around so that little Nobody Owens (“Nob” for short) is adopted by the ghosts of a pastoral graveyard when the rest of his family is murdered by a mysterious figure that ends up dogging him for most of the book. Nob is bright, precocious, and largely unaware of the outside world because he is forbidden from venturing outside the graveyard gates. But he is given certain magical powers otherwise possessed only by the dead, and he makes the most of his life among death.
I should mention that this is pretty clearly a book for young adults, so the language is pretty simple, there’s not much violence, and there are no adult situations of the salacious type. But as you might guess from a book about the citizens of a cemetery, The Graveyard Book does tackle one theme typically reserved for adults: death. It’s everywhere in the book, and Gaiman uses that as an opportunity to talk about the flip side of that coin: life and the potential it brings. In a lot of ways The Graveyard Book is a coming of age book, as Nob develops a very blase attitude towards death to the point of not caring if he dies –almost all of his best friends are dead, after all.
But in the course of his character arc, Nob learns to value his own life and the potential that he has to do anything, to go anywhere, and to be anyone. It’s a theme that a lot of young adults will find compelling, and Gaiman executes it really well while keeping the plot brisk and the setting imaginative enough to keep you turning the pages. And the last couple of chapters in particular are bittersweet partings that I think every one of us can relate to.