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?
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