The Graveyard Book
It seems odd to use to word lovely to describe a book that primarily takes place in a graveyard, but it’s really the most accurate. You see, despite the fact that there is a graveyard; it’s not creepy or terrifying. It’s homey in the way that makes you think of your favorite place to hide when you were a small child (like the fort of blankets and pillows I used to make with two wingback armchairs).
A small child, barely more than an infant, climbs out of his crib with the assistance of his teddy bear. He toddles out of his room and scoots down the stairs. He looks back up the stairs, but decides that the steps are too steep to go back so he goes in the only logical direction available…out the front door. Unfortunately for this little boy, while he was having his little adventure a man named Jack was murdering his family. Jack follows the scent of the little boy out of the house and up the street to a graveyard. This boy is a lucky boy. A ghost, a plump woman, finds the boy. She calls for her husband who tries to convince her to leave the babe as he is living and they are not. The new ghosts of the boy’s family appear to the plump woman and her husband, telling them that the figure at the gate is trying to harm her baby. The Owens (the plump woman and her husband) protect the child and agree to be his parents. As the boy named Nobody grows, he finds a home, friends, and enough adventure to satisfy any young child.
I’ve heard that they read this book in middle school now and I have to say, I’m a little sad that it wasn’t around when I was that age. I’m sure I would have loved it as much then as I do now.
This story is delightfully pleasant. The voice Gaiman uses to tell the tale of Nobody sounded in my head like Ian McKellan narrating the beginning of Stardust. (Admittedly that’s less than surprising since Stardust is another of Gaiman’s creations.) It’s just that the language is so rich that even though it’s in a graveyard with weathered stones and grey shrouds, there’s so much color to the story. The grass is a lush green and the sky of the ghoul world is a burnt orange/red. Reading this book feels so much like watching a movie because the imagery Gaiman uses is so compellingly evocative of every child’s imagination. It’s lovely.
This is going to be a long tangent (fair warning). My training is primarily in microbiology. In that training, we learned that on every cell in a person’s body has a marker that has no other purpose than to communicate SELF. It does this so that the immune system leaves it alone to do its job. During my life as a reader, certain books have caused my brain to do this as well. Anything Cat Valente has written, including her blog, my brain flags as SELF. These are books that are so close to who you are that you flag them. This book did that for me. Let me tell you why, I’ll try to keep it short.
In college, when I needed to give my brain a break and I was looking for a little adventure, I would go on drives. At K-State, there is a lake a little north of town that’s surrounded by the Flint Hills. On one of these drives, I stumbled upon a graveyard that sat on top of a hill overlooking the lake. There wasn’t anything creepy about this graveyard as it was almost always bathed in sunlight and most of the grave markers were at least 150 years old. I would bring along my old Canon SLR (before I upgraded to digital) and take pictures of the graveyard and the abandoned settlement in the valley below. I would look at the names and dates on the weathered markers and wonder who these people were and what they would have been like. Reading this book felt a lot like standing on that hill so many years ago only Nobody has a leg up on me. He could not only see the people who lived there, but he could talk to them and listen to their stories. I have to say, I’m more than a little jealous. [End of tangent]
5 ink bottles and whatever bones you can find in Georgia O’Keffe’s house. It’s a wonderful story and I can’t recommend it enough.