My rating: 5 of 5 stars
*SPOILER ALERT* Although the title might sound a little bit creepy, the graveyard is intimidating only if you have the misfortune to be one of the live human characters in the book. Generally, the ghosts who live in the graveyard are witty and hilarious. The living people are funny too. For example, here are the thoughts of one of the living characters, Scarlett Amber Perkins, when caught in a life threatening situation:
page 258. “If I get out of this alive, I’m going to force her [Mom] to get me a phone. It’s ridiculous. I’m the only person in my year who doesn’t have her own phone, practically.”
As always, Neil Gaiman grips the reader and doesn’t let go until he’s shaken your world completely. I could feel him walking through various graveyards checking to make sure there was a ghoul gate in every one of them, checking the inscriptions on the headstones imagining characters to life. His descriptions are so vivid that when Bod walks through his home, you are there with him. The characters earn the reader’s trust as they earn the trust of other characters, and when they betray them, they betray the reader.
There are things we think about when we think of a graveyard, of ghosts, of the dead. Things we aren’t sure about. These are the things Neil Gaiman takes and crafts masterfully into the world of the people of the graveyard.
page. 174. “Fear is contagious. You can catch it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say that they’re scared for the fear to become real.”
People who die leave an echo of themselves in the world of the living. The people in Neil Gaiman’s graveyard have the ability to access the world of the living in a way which is kind of an eerie explanation to that echo. They can fade – meaning, they can be present without being noticed. They can dreamwalk – enter people’s dreams and sometimes even create a dream. They can create fear and haunt. It is fascinating to question these experiences we have as living people, but through the eyes of the dead.
There are a few different kinds of creatures in the world: the living, the dead, and of course the most intriguing characters – the ones in between.
1. The protagonist – Bod, is a living boy, but he lives in the graveyard and therefore has the ability to do what the dead who live there can. In his reality the lines between living and dead are blurred, and his mind is so open he believes anything is possible.
page 167. “Someone killed my mother and father and my sister.”
“Yes. Someone did.”
“Which means,” said Bod, “you’re asking the wrong question.”…”the question isn’t ‘Who will keep me safe from him?’”
“No. It’s ‘Who will keep him safe from me?’”
Bod’s abilities to behave like the dead come from him having the “Freedom of the Graveyard.” I think the Freedom of the Graveyard is the privilege given to those who have already died, thus been relieved of the fear of death. It is freedom from the fear of the unknown.
2. Silas, Bod’s guardian, is neither living nor dead, and it’s not entirely clear what he is, but here’s what we do know about him:
page 32: “I want to be like you,” said Bod, pushing out his lower lip. “No,” said Silas firmly, “you do not.”
page 194. “There are ways to kill people like me,” he said. “But they do not involve cars.”
3. The third intriguing character is the villian, the man Jack. While he is clearly alive, he also has some mysterious abilities which living people usually do not possess. The book opens with Jack committing a murder. His motive is not clarified until the very end, but he creates a kind of paradoxical cycle of events: if he had not tried to kill the boy in the first place, then his reason for wanting to kill him would not exist. It reminded me of two of my favorite pieces of literature: Harry Potter and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. If Lord Voldemort had not tried to kill Harry, he would not have created his own worst enemy. If the witches had not predicted that Macbeth would become king, he may not have tried.
There are also legends relating to the world of the graveyard, the ancient. The first, the Lady on the Grey, was so convincing I googled it to see if it was something I should have known about. The second, the legend of the treasure – the brooch, the goblet, the knife – was not entirely explained, but everyone in the world seemed to know about it. They did not, however, know about the Sleer – the guardians of the treasure. The sleer were a particularly interesting entity because you never knew exactly what they were. Whether the sleer is good or bad depends on what you want: power, or freedom.
The story is amazing, with such a shocking twist I actually gasped out loud while reading it. It says it’s a book for children, but come on – we all know the best books for grown ups are kids’ books.