As always, this review is spoiler free.
The Graveyard Book was first recommended to me by my cousin several years ago. It’s been on my list ever since, so I passed on the recommendation to my local book club in hopes that I might find extra motivation to get around to reading the story. The book club chose the book for the March book, and I had a great time reading it. It’s the first book I’ve read this year, since my story mind has been busy writing the first draft of a middle grade / YA novel, and it was well worth the read.
The story of The Graveyard Book follows a young boy named Bod and his adventures living in the graveyard being raised by the spectral and fantastical individuals who live there. Neil Gaiman, the book’s author, is an author I’ve wanted to read, especially after reading a commencement speech he gave at the University of the Arts in New York called “Make Good Art”. (I came across it while researching for this essay project.) So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on the book:
Vignettes—The Graveyard Book is based loosely on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Unlike the Disney version, the original Jungle Book is a series of short stories, rather than one continuous narrative. Gaiman uses a similar format for The Graveyard Book, each chapter acting more like a short story than a continuation of the plot. For those expecting a linear plot, this type of storytelling may seem frustrating or slow, but Gaiman is more interested in telling the story of what it might be like to be raised in an English graveyard than he is in rushing through the plot.
Impressionistic Prose—My favorite part of Neil Gaiman’s writing style is his ability to choose details. He gives the reader enough details to get a sense of place, but most of the richness of the experience comes from imagining the parts of the story only hinted at. As a reader, I got the sense that there was much more going on behind the scenes, especially with the dialogue, which allowed me to connect with the characters on a deeper level, even though most of them were non-human.
Gothic Themes—Gaiman does a masterful job using names, settings, and details to create a Gothic vibe. From literary allusion to foreign language words, the story does a great job of evoking the feel of a graveyard by drawing on hundreds of years of spooky references. On top of that, the subject matter of the story allows Gaiman to approach some delicate topics in thought-provoking ways. My favorite chapter, “The Witch’s Headstone”, (which was the first chapter Gaiman actually wrote for the book) had some awesome reflection on the history of witch burning, as well as a short discussion about whether those who perish by suicide are happy after death. While these topics are not easy to read about, Gaiman does an admirable job taking them on with dashes of humor.
Really Great Quotes—I would do a disservice to anyone excited to read the book if I shared all of my favorite quotes from the book here, so I will just share my favorite one here. If you like it, expect to find more like it throughout the story:
“You are alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential.”
—Silas, The Graveyard Book
Overall, I give the book four-and-a-half out of five stars. Full appreciation of the story requires some maturity, but middle school aged readers on up will be able to enjoy the story. While the story never goes into full horror mode, there is plenty of creepiness and peril to go around. If you don’t like Gothic elements, or themes that center on death, The Graveyard Book might not be for you. However, if you want to read prose that can make you shiver that tells a story that makes you smile, The Graveyard Book is for you.
Have you read The Graveyard Book? What did you think about it?
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