Becoming human

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book has won the top awards for children’s fiction going – the US Newbery, the UK Carnegie, plus a Hugo for SF/Fantasy amongst many other awards and nominations. The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s first full length novel for children since Coraline, (which I loved and reviewed here). Would it live up to my expectations and the hype, as it had been sitting on my bedside pile for long enough…?

The story of Nobody Owens, a boy whose family were all murdered one night in the first few pages of the book.   He was just a toddler then, but somehow evaded the killer by toddling into the adjacent graveyard, where a pair of kindly ghosts adopt him and give him his name. They bring him up with the help of the mysterious Silas who becomes his mentor – a rather vampirical character; all the other spectral inhabitants of the graveyard help out of course.  Young ‘Bod’, as they call him, gets a rather fantastical education from all of these phantoms, many of whom died centuries ago.  As he grows up he has many adventures in the graveyard with the ghosts, also venturing into some of the other portals within. As he nears adolescence though, he yearns to find out what lies outside – but the murderer is still looking for him.  Bod has to find the perfect balance and manage not to draw attention to himself, but he is a caring boy and when he stands up for a bullied child he puts himself in danger …

I’d defy older children and frankly anyone else not to enjoy this book.  The various adventures of Bod as he grows up read like short stories, with the linked background and threat of murder all the way through. Gaiman wrote with Kipling’s Jungle Book as inspiration for the tale of an orphan brought up by non-humans, and then puts his own macabre and spooky twists on the orphan’s tale.   The Graveyard itself has a ‘Highgate Cemetery’ feel to it with its old stones and its very own Egyptian Avenue – Highgate enthusiast Audrey Niffenegger took Gaiman on the tour.

What I liked about the graveyard was that during the daytime it is a haven, a tranquil place for reflection, yet one where you wouldn’t be surprised to find children happily playing among the headstones.  Step outside the consecrated ground into the big, bad world beyond though, and its powers and inhabitants can no longer help you. This is where one of the other great characters in the book was helpful – Liza Hempstock, a young witch who died in the ducking stool was buried outside, and has a wonderful devil may care attitude, but Bod befriends her and she comes to his aid.

Gaiman’s imagination is fantastic, and aided by Chris Riddell’s wonderfully quirky illustrations (I’m a huge fan of Riddell), this book leapt off the page.  Also published in a YA/adult crossover edition with illustrations by Dave McKean too.

The Graveyard Book is much less of a horror story than Coraline, this book is more of a coming of age tale, and has positively wistful moments too – I loved it. (9/10)

I bought this book (with the Riddell illustrations). For another recent review read what Simon S thought about it.

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To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
The Graveyard Book
Coraline

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9 thoughts on “Becoming human

  1. I m not huge fantasy or such fan but this is a book that has caught my eye in the past ,after reading your review I may just try and get it want to try some different books this year just for a change ,all the best stu

  2. I read this aloud on the car ride home on my honeymoon and my husband and I really enjoyed it a lot. It definitely kept us going for the eight hours we were driving, and we would frequently hypothesize about what was going to happen next. There were times I think it was a bit cliché (and there were a lot of parallels to Harry Potter), but overall we enjoyed it a lot. I admit to tearing up at the end!

  3. I’m always delighted when Gaiman and McKean collaborate. I think their styles and imaginations work really well together, and I’m crazy about them both individually. It’s nice that they’ve continued to work together over the years.

  4. I do love this book but for me Coraline is the best of all the Gaiman/mckean books.
    (I hope Gaiman does a audio version of The Graveyard Book soon)

  5. I read Coraline and The Graveyard Book in quick succession last year and absolutely loved them both.
    I thought that Coraline was wonderfully spooky – far more so than many books supposedly aimed solely at adults – and yes, The Graveyard Book made me cry.
    I enjoyed it so much that I more or less forced Junior Daughter to read it and was pleased that she loved it as much as I did.

    • Knowing about the Jungle Book connection, I didn’t really think of Harry Potter at all Steph. I certainly agree that Coraline is something special and spooky. I loved both these books.

      So should I move on to his adult books – Neverwhere or American Gods (both in the TBR), or wait until the TBR ban is over and buy some of the Sandman stuff next?

  6. That’s a great description of the difference between Coraline and The Graveyard Book. Many people have asked me how to compare the two, but I’ve always struggled. I wouldn’t say that The Graveyard Book is standard coming-of-age, though. It’s a little more adventure-y and story-book fantasy, but it’s certainly not horror.

    Both great books, though.

  7. I thought this books was lovely. I haven’t read The Jungle Book so can’t compare. I loved both Neverwhere and American Gods but I think I preferred the latter:)

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