The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman – Review (Spoilers)
“The Graveyard Book,” by Neil Gaiman is the coming of age story for a young boy named Nobody Owns, Bod for short. It is the story of a young child who grows up in a fantastic world where the only boundaries are the outside world. He comes of age in a place where the impossible is possible. We, as readers, are taken along on his journey of learning life lessons as any child would; as well as learning that the world is not as black and white as we like to think it is.
Bod’s parents and younger sister are killed by a man named Jack. Bod is a baby and crawls his way out of the house and to a graveyard where the man isn’t able to hurt him. Bod is adopted by the inhabitants of the graveyard and he is given the protection that goes along with that. As long as he is there he is safe from the man Jack and his organization. Bod grows up in the graveyard learning life and scholarly lessons from those who were buried there. In the end the man Jack and his organization do come for Bod. Bod is able to defeat them using what he has learned through his upbringing in this strange place.
Many of the first chapters of the book are vignettes about Bod growing up and learning lessons about life. Bod learns that just because you dislike what an adult is telling you, find it boring and pointless does not mean it will not be useful later. He learns that by not listening to what he is told could end up with him in a life threatening situation. He also learns that while he may screw up and get himself into trouble those who care about him are always watching and will protect him if they can. In the end all these lessons he learned are what enable him to defeat the man who wants him dead and save not only himself but his home as well.
I think the theme and main idea of this book can be summed up by the relationship between Scarlett and Bod. When the two first meet they are both young and innocent. Scarlett believes that Bod is an imaginary friend and she barely questions what he does or says. At this age she accepts Bod and all the weird aspects of his life and home. Her and her family move and it is stated that “[…]she fled down the path back the way they had come, to her parents and the world.” (pg 60). She leaves a world where the impossible is possible and is thrown into a world where reality tells her that somethings just aren’t real and never can be.
When we meet Scarlett again she is a teenager and she has been in the world for a while. Like all children they believe that all things can happen until adults and the real world tell them otherwise. Scarlett is now skeptical and she is actually surprised that Bod is real and not imaginary. She is must less trusting. After the fight she goes through with Bod she becomes terrified of Bod. She is scared of all the things that she has seen and experienced. She can’t take it all in and in the end has to have her memory wiped. The real world has stepped in and put set limits and regulations on her. She knows what is real, what isn’t and she can’t fathom any of that changing. She can’t make the two worlds mesh together.
Bod on the other hand has grown up with all these fantastic elements as his reality. Talking to ghosts? Normal. Being able to Fade? Normal. Being able to go into a different realm through an old grave? Normal. For Bod all is normal and whenever he is presented with something new he take it in and examines it. He doesn’t run and hide. Which will serve him well when he does step into the rest of the world.
He asks his guardian, “How can you make her forget me?” (pg 289) after he watches Scarlett break down before him. His guardian tells him. “People want to forget the impossible. It makes their world safer,” (pg 289). This is one of the last lessons Bod has to learn in his home. He has to learn that sometimes the world can’t accept the fantastic and that to be safe people ignore what is troubling and weird. Bod has to realize that the world outside of his graveyard is much less trusting.
The book ends with Bod leaving his home and venturing out into the world. He is excited to see what is beyond the gates. He wants to explore and see what is out there. He has seen all he can inside of the graveyard and he knows that it is time for him to take on a new adventure. Whereas Scarlett was scared of the unknown Bod embraces it.
I enjoyed this book because of how well Gaiman combined reality with fantasy. He told a coming of age story unlike one we have seen before. As Bod leaves his home we, as readers, know that not only will he be able to take care of himself but he will be able to show the world some things as well. Sometimes our world needs these eccentric, seemingly odd people to open up the possibilities that surround us.