“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
A man named Jack kills a family at night – except for an infant son, who somehow eludes him.
The child wanders into a graveyard, populated by ghosts and other supernatural creatures.
He is adopted by ghosts of a childless married couple named Owens and the mysterious not-dead-or-alive Silas is appointed his guardian.
And so the boy becomes Nobody Owens, known as Bod.
Bod grows up in the graveyard and he learns many things about the worlds of both the living and the dead.
Silas and the ghosts try to keep him safe and it is clear that they believe that Bod is special. But Bod is becoming curious about the world of living humans and about the man who murdered his family and who may still be looking for him.
“The Graveyard Book” is cleverly constructed with each chapter works as a short story in its own right while also contributing to the story arc of the novel.
The events and themes picked out are well chosen – the tale of Bod’s attempts to fit into school in the living world is particularly good .
Lovely prose brings the strange world of the graveyard to life. Initially light, with a sprinkling of dark humour, the tone darkens as Bod grows up.
And the cast is wonderful.
Bod himself is a lovable and believable kid Silas is a caring but stern mentor, and he never quite loses his air of mystery. Bod’s childhood friend Scarlett is another believable kid, as is Eliza, the young witch. The Owenses are kind parents, who clearly relish a role they were denied in life. Mother Slaughter, the fussy Mr. Pennyworth, Silas’s stand-in guardian and the Sleer, guarding treasure while waiting wait for a master to protect, are wonderful creations too.
There were a few weaknesses. The reasons why Jack was hunting Bod could and maybe should have been drawn out slowly, but they came late into book and were not as imaginative as the rest of the book.
And for me the book fell between two stools – not quite adult but not really young adult either. Though quite possibly that is what will make “The Graveyard Book” a classic for those who first come to it young.
The end though is wonderful – satisfying and fitting with what came before and leaving the possibility of a sequel open without leaving loose ends – and the strengths of this book definitely outweigh the flaws.
This is a strange and scary coming-of-age tale.