In the best tradition of scary stories, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman begins with murder on a moonlit night. Three family members slain, while the fourth, a boy toddler, evades Jack the murderer’s blade and seeks refuge with the supernatural inhabitants of a nearby graveyard. Partly inspired by The Jungle Book, but with ghosts rather than animals bringing up the plucky orphan, Gaiman’s modern classic remains the only book to have won both the Carnegie and Newbery prize. This Halloween coincides with its 10th anniversary, prompting a suitably macabre review.
The eventful night that delivers little Bod Owens to the graveyard is grim, even by ghosts’ standards. His eventual adoptive parents (themselves quite dead) are confronted by an ‘unquestionably alive’ baby and the accompanying hysterical spirit presence of his freshly murdered mother. A ‘raw flickering,’ like television static and the panicked screams ‘ My baby! He is trying to harm my baby!…Protect my son!’
The graveyard souls debate Bod’s future that dark night, and decide to honour his mother’s wishes and keep him safe from malevolent outside forces. And so it comes to pass that Bod grows up in a graveyard, enjoying such pastimes as playing moonlight hide-and-seek amongst the ivy-covered tombstones, with the ghosts of long-dead children.
But the children never grow older and Bod does. He aches to go out into the land of the living, and yet it is expressly forbidden. One day, the lure is too strong.
‘Two hundred miles away, the man Jack woke from his sleep, and sniffed the air.’
Atmospheric, with lashings of mist and menace, Bod’s adventure is, in turn, spine-chilling and touching. Freaky and fabulous.
Suitable for readers aged 10+ or younger readers of a robust nature.
Listen to the truly excellent Neil Gaiman, discussing and reading from The Graveyard Book.
The Graveyard Book is published by Bloomsbury, 304 pages.
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