What’s Your Epitaph? Review: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens is a boy who lives in a graveyard.  His parents are ghosts, his guardian walks the border between the living and dead, his tutor is a shape shifter, and his best friend thinks he’s imaginary.

But Nobody Owens isn’t the boy’s real name.  And he isn’t a ghost.

Spanning over 10 years to complete, author Neil Gaiman watched his toddler son ride his tricycle around a cemetery and a story was in the making.  It’s interesting that the first draft of his story actually started at chapter 4.  In his acknowledgements he credits a variety of friends and family that introduced him to graveyard history, folklore, and my favorite ghouls, all of which helped to construct the Newbery winning graveyard book.

I really enjoyed the style of Gaiman’s voice.  In several chapters you don’t know, but you do know, who is doing the talking.  There’s a kind of mystery to the book.  He takes you into a wonderfully unique cemetery in Scotland.  A graveyard with a mixture of tombs, and characters, on the outskirts of town.

One thing I found that set Gaiman’s book apart from mainstream fiction is how many characters he introduces.  There are lots.  The editor in me panicked the first few chapters in, “Neil, what are you doing?  Who are these people?  Do I need to  remember them?  Should I have brought a highlighter with me?  A notepad?  A three-ring binder?  Wait, I’m ok, this is different, but I get it.”  He does have a large cast of characters, but they’re very unique.  And while some may make a short appearance, the way he introduces them is so cool.  After he names a character in the graveyard, he writes in parentheses the epitaph on their tombstone.  I loved it!  But can’t you just imagine this cooped up writer in an office madly scribbling epitaphs on a piece of napkin or back of a billing statement, trying to get it just right?  That kind of detail is exactly what would slowly and agonizingly drive me to lose it, but I’d have to have each one just right.  Gaiman nails it here!

The Graveyard Book may be shelved on the young adult bookshelves, but this is a book anyone will enjoy.  It’s a fast read with a captive setting and well plotted storyline.  Illustrations by Dave McKean also add a fun touch to the story.

What would your epitaph read?

Too morbid?  Just tell us what book you’re currently reading!


24 responses

  1. I’ve been thinking about reading The Graveyard Book for a while now, but so far I haven’t been able to work up the interest. Now, I think I’m going to have to make a trip to the library.
    As to my epitaph, I’ve always liked the title to Stephen King’s short story, “All that You Love Will Be Carried Away.” However it seems to me that the epitaph has gone out of style, with most of the new markers in the graveyards (yes I like to walk around in graveyards occasionally) being nothing more than a name and two dates. This makes me sad. When I die I’d like SOMETHING more interesting than that to mark my life.

    1. It’s a necessity when you’re a writer. I think you should get the cover of your book engraved on a piece of marble and slap that up in the yard when you’re gone! Then you won’t just have an epitaph, it’ll be a fully indestructible blurb! Muahahaha! And more people will read your book, cause they’ll be all like, “Who’s this dude with the book tombstone?” Just a suggestion. Take it, send it back. It’s cool. 😉

  2. I’m planning to be cremated, so there won’t be a gravestone, but if there were, it might say: “She fed us and made us laugh.”


    1. Wendy Matheson: Succulent Chef and Wordbitch Too much?

  3. Loved your post. I happen to be sitting here with my 12-year-old daughter and she saw the cover and said that she read that book in 5th grade and really liked it. That’s enough for me, plus your great review. I’m going to purchase it right away.
    My epitaph? Hmmm… “Loved her family to death”…..

    1. Oddly morbid epitaph. You must give some bear hugs! 🙂 Hope you like the book!

  4. I’d like my epitaph to read “Professional Liar.” At 38, I already have my cemetery plot. It’s in a cemetery where my family has been buried since the mid 1800s. Though cremation is fascinating, I very much want to be buried in the same ground with my ancestors.

    As for Neil Gaiman, I just haven’t discovered him. I figure, some day, I’m going to have a hankering for his work and read all of it. Until that day…

    1. That’s really interesting about your family. I would choose the same thing if I had your lineage and history. Quite the honor I think to be laid down with your ancestors.

  5. I definitely want to explore more of Neil Gaiman’s books, and cemeteries (and ghosts) are right up my alley. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. I know you read Coraline. Did you also read Stardust? I heard that one is awesome on audio tape; Neil reads it.

  6. Jess
    i really enjoy reading your reviews
    i feel like wanting to read this book too
    thank u:))

    1. Thanks Farouk! It’s been part of my resolutions towards happiness was to read more. I originally was shooting for just one book a month, but so far I’ve managed 2. Hope to keep it up! Check out my bookshelf page to see all the books I’ve finished so far this year!

  7. Neil Gaiman is my absolute favourite! He came to my city (SO lucky!!) 2 years ago just as this one was being released and did a reading (I have copious photos and videos!), but I haven’t actually finished this one yet – thanks for reminding me 🙂

    1. I would love it if you posted on it and showed your photos! So jealous! I watched a ton of you tube videos of him reading and interviews about how collaborative he is after I read that post on his blog about the speaking fee hullabaloo. Do you read his blog? It’s pretty interesting. He’s got a great reading voice for sure!

  8. I really can’t say what my epitaph would say… BUT, I absolutely adore Neil Gaiman, and this is a fantastic book. I agree that it’s for all ages, not only young adult!

    1. Yah, I mean look at the commenters alone! Ages 8 and above! That’s really speaking highly of the author that a story like this would capture so many. Kudos to Gaiman!

  9. Hey after reading your review here, this book has come on my “to read” list. Also, if you’re looking for another book by Gaiman, read American Gods. It took me awhile to get through, and there is a great criticism within his writing.

    1. Yah the library here has that one on audio tape. I might pick it up!

    1. With your background, Gene, I bet you’d really like Gaiman’s work! They’re quick reads and really interesting. Happy reading!

  10. I heard recently that the great Spike Milligan has an epitaph that reads “I told you I was sick…” Funny though, Mrs Dim’s Gran dying prompted some morbid thinking. We’ve made plans for the sudden deaths of our parents (in case of, not how to cause them….) but we haven’t discussed what happens to US. Do I want to be buried in Canada? Have my ashes scattered on the top of Burnaby mountain? (Ugh, imagine trying to eat a picnic on the mountainside, and all this grit and ash….Doesn’t bear thinking about!)
    Mrs Dim says I always get too pompous when I’m trying too hard, so I’ll give the epitaph some careful thought. Pompous for eternity is a horrible idea.

    1. LOL. Pompous for eternity! I like your Mrs. Dim.

  11. Actually, I prefer to be cremated and have my ashes spread in the forest (after I donated all my organs). No tombstone for me.

    1. I think I want to be cremated too. What a lovely way to give new life by donating your organs, Marilag. My grandma did that too.

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