Bod — Nobody Owens — lives in the graveyard.
If that sounds a bit strange, it’s because it is. When Bod was 18 months old, a man — the man Jack, in fact — crept into Bod’s house and killed his parents and older sister. Bod only escaped by chance; being only a baby, he had no idea what was going on. And, by not quite chance, he was accepted into the arms of Mr. and Mrs. Owens and given the freedom of the graveyard. It protected Bod when he was a baby, and it continues to protect him as he grows.
That’s not to say that growing up in a graveyard is easy. Bod has friends, true, but they’re all dead. And his guardian, Silas, is a foreboding character as well. Gaiman gives us little snapshots, almost short stories, from Bod’s childhood: a real live friend, Scarlett, or at least until he accidentally scares her by taking her to the oldest grave in the graveyard; the Danse Macabre; his instruction by and friendship with Miss Lupescu, who is an interesting character in her own right. Bod is a typical boy: getting into and out of scrapes, though his scrapes — because the man Jack is still out to get Bod, which makes the regular world unsafe — are more sinister than the scrapes of an average 8-year-old boy.
For much of the book, the reader wonders what each snippet, each story has to do with the rest. But Gaiman, master storyteller that he is, doesn’t forget anything, and ably brings all the threads together by the end. The mystery that weaves through the book is solved, questions are answered, and the second-to-last chapter is as gripping and intense as the first one.
It’s not just a novel, it’s a story, with hints and shades of Kipling’s Jungle Book mixed and twisted with the delightful macabre that Gaiman is best known for. And if you get a chance to listen to Gaiman read the story aloud (as you can, here), do. His reading makes the story pop, makes it come alive in ways that just reading it on the page cannot.
Either in print, or read aloud, it really is storytelling at its finest.
Rated: Mild, for scenes of violence and intensity.