The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Why I Read It: Stainless Steel Droppings was hosting a read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: If you like the scary things to be the good guys, then this ghost story is worth your time.

Publisher: HaprerCollins (2008)

Length: 320 pages

Part I Read Along

Part II Read Along

Part III Read Along

This was a re-read for me and I think I enjoyed this book even more the second time around, mostly because the read along forced me to slow down and savor this book.

Nobody (Bod) Owens’ family was killed by a knife-wielding man Jack while baby Bod wandered out of the house and up the street to a local ancient graveyard. Being pursued by Jack, the graveyard ghosts grant him the protection and freedom of the graveyard. From there, with each consecutive chapter, we see Bod grow up with his ghostly family (The Owenses) and their neighbors. Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, agrees to be his guardian, providing clothes, food, and books.

Miss Lupescu (shape shifter), Scarlett (Bod’s first live friend), and Liza Hempstock (deceased witch) are some of my favorite characters. As Bod ages, he learns about ghouls, school bullies, and eventually the man who killed his first family.

I love this book for many reasons. Neil Gaiman does an excellent job of showing that not all scary things are inherently evil. Each chapter shows yet another facet of the world of the graveyard and those experiences shape Bod as he grows into a young man. I would jump for joy if Gaiman wrote a follow up novel exploring Bod’s life after this book.

What I Liked: The novelty of a book based on a graveyard society; the whole idea of life continuing on after this living, breathing one; Bod turns into a fine young man; I easily got attached to these characters and it was hard to say goodbye to some of them; the ghouls (named after famous people like Victor Hugo and a US president).

What I Disliked: I felt the chapter on the Danse Macabre was left a little too open-ended for me. I wanted to know more.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as Ghost Story. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part III

Heldig doesn’t like to share her napping place.

Once again, let me thank Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this read along. This is the third and final installment of this event.

Spoilers Range Loose and Unfettered

In case you haven’t read the previous parts:

Part I

Part II

In Chapter 7, a lot of cool, wicked, and important stuff happens. For me, there were two hard things – Miss Lupescu’s death and Bod regains his friend Scarlett only to drive her away. However, there is also the satisfaction of Mr. Jack Frost coming to a deserved end and also learning more about the Sleer.

I have to go on a bit about the society of Every Man Jack: Jack Dandy, Jack Nimble, Jack Ketch, Jack Frost and Jack Tar. Jack Dandy was familiar to me as referring to someone who enjoys garish clothing, hats, and perhaps wigs and canes. Apparently, ‘dandy’ has meant pretty much just this since the 1700s.

Did you know that Jack Nimble use to be a pirate? An English pirate, Black Jack, from the 16th century. Somehow, he went from that to nursery rhymes. I thank Gaiman for pointing back to Jack N.’s original inclinations.

Jack Ketch of the 1600s held the office of Executioner, and on occasion, he botched a job. This would lead to a prolonged execution. It’s amazing the stuff you can find on Wikipedia. I have to wonder how much of this stuff Gaiman had kicking around his head over the years?

Jack Frost is common in American culture as the harbinger of winter. Unfortunately, my society has also made several bad movies about Jack Frost. In particular, there was this very questionable movie I saw  in some hotel room on a forced family expedition that featured Jack Frost as a snowman. If you know this movie, then that particular scene with the carrot in the shower has kept me steering clear of any Frost movies since then.

Our last Jack, Jack Tar, is a little boring, simply being a WWI seaman.

OK. I have gone on long enough about ancient bad guys and nursery rhymes and poor choices in hotel tv. A quick recap of Chapter 7: Bod (~14 yrs. old) is missing Silas and Lupescu, who are off in foreign places with a small pig fighting Jack Badness. Scarlett and her divorced mom have returned to the area and Scarlett comes across a man taking headstone rubbings for a community history project in the old neighborhood. Of course this man, Jack Frost, is hunting Bod. Bod doesn’t know this, but he does eventually recognize Scarlett and they renew their friendship. Frost waits for his opportunity to strike and when he does so, Bod realizes who he is. A merry, twisted chase through the graveyard ensues with the Jacks mentioned above. Scarlett hides in the Sleer hill crypt, where Frost eventually finds her. The Sleer haven’t had so much company since they were buried and I doubt they will be serving tea. Jack Frost is defeated and the Sleer made ecstatically happy, and Scarlett had to have her memory (Bod and all) wiped by the returned Silas.

Chapter 8 finds Bod old enough to leave the graveyard and enter the world of the living. His fading abilities to commune with the ghosts are a huge hint by Fate for him to move on and start living his life. This final chapter was bittersweet. We have to say goodbye to most of the characters we met along the way. Sniffle…

Does anyone else hope that someday Neil Gaiman returns to this world?

What do you think about the Sleer and their coils?

While I get that the Jacks are bad, I still don’t get exactly what all they do? Anything and everything naughty and despicable?

Will you be reading another Gaiman novel soon?

Thanks everyone for stopping by throughout the read along!

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part II

Chupacabra guarding my book.

For the second installment of The Graveyard Book read along, chapters 4-6 (which includes a short interlude) were read. If you are just joining us, Part I can be found HERE.

Let me start off by thanking Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this read along. He has several fun reading events going on this month, so make sure to check out his site.

These few chapters see our main character, Nobody (Bod) Owens, grow from a child to a youngling on the cusp of adulthood. One of the things I truly enjoy about Neil Gaiman‘s writings is his ability to weave mythology and lore into everyday experiences. He does that beautifully in the chapter concerning the Danse Macabre, where the living and the dead enjoy a few hours of unfettered dancing in the streets.

In Chapter 4, The Witch’s Headstone, we meet Liza Hempstock (I love Gaiman’s character names!), who was droned and burned to charcoal and buried and a witch in unconsecrated ground. Turns out she is a little bit of a witch, and it is good that she and Bod get to be friends. Bod finds it a bit sad that she lacks a headstone and so he sets out to get her one, taking many chances and breaking even more rules. He steals from the Sleether (see Part I) and tries to sell the item to a shady type who locks him in a back room while he decides what to do. Bod is eventually saved and returns to the graveyard, where he makes a touching gesture to Liza. Humanity counts whether you are dead or alive. What did you all think about Abanazer Bolger’s connection to Jack?

The Danse Macabre I alluded to above is Chapter 5. I found this chapter to be full of mystery and beauty. I loved the idea of tradition pushing the living into participating, and the simplicity of the not-very-often blooming white flowers. Even though this is my second read through, I still didn’t understand why the ghosts and even Silas at the end of the chapter, after the dance is all said and done, won’t talk about it. We already had plenty of mystery surrounding the dance, like why the flowers, where was the music coming from, and why did the ghosts spiffy up their ghostly habitations if the dance took place in town? Why add the mystery of not talking about it?

Jack, Jack, Jack…..Sigh… what a vicious mystery you are. In the interlude Convocation, we get a few hints about Jack. Perhaps he is well funded. Perhaps he is just one of a group of trained or specialized killers. Reading this little section makes me worry for Bod Owens.

In Chapter 6, Nobody Owens’ School Days, Bod gets to go to class. He wants to learn, not just book learning, but about being alive. Silas, his guardian, warns him to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, Bod has a hard time doing that for very long because there are bullies. Pretty soon he has not only the ill-intention of the bullies focused on him, but also the once-bullied younger kids pointing him out. Things start to get out of hand when the police get involved. However, Bod learns some important skills, like putting on The Fear and Dreamwalking. At this point in the book, Bod is 11 and he is asking questions about why he has to keep a low profile and why his family was killed and who this killer Jack is and why Jack still wants him dead. And Bod receives no answers. I feel Bod’s frustration! I want answers too. But I also feel that Bod deserves the truth of the matter at this point. He’s old enough to ask the question and understand the bulk of the answer. And I believe that Bod is starting to make choices that could endanger him greatly because he is kept ignorant.

So that’s the sum up. What stuck out for you?

Did you get the Danse Macabre chapter?

Do you think Bod’s Haunting of the school bullies was just a teensy vicious?

What is up with Jack and his business card?

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part I

Those first three chapters went by pretty quick. It’s been probably about two years since I last read this book, and back then I stayed up late two or three nights reading this book in big chunks. One of the things I like about read alongs is that they often force a person to slow down and enjoy the book more thoroughly. Before I launch into my ramble, I want to give thanks to Stainless Steel Droppings for organizing yet another awesome reading event. Make sure you stop by there to see Carl’s thoughts on Part I.

Ye Have Been Warned, Spoilers Abound!

The front of my book lets the reader know right off that this is a Newberry Medal winner – which means that it is a great kids’ book. For those of you who are venturing into this book the first time, I hope you went into it with some preconceived notions just as I did the first time. That first chapter pretty much tears those notions down and shreds them with cramp-on laced boots. Jack is not a good guy and he is up to foul deeds a plenty. My book is illustrated, which lends another level of creepiness to this book.

Jack kills off the entire family except the baby boy who happens to have two things going for him: He is precocious, and he is adventurous. So he manages to slip out of the the house and to a local graveyard where he finds protectors. These protectors are not the normal sort; or rather, they are normal, decent folks who just happen to be dead. While the ghosts cannot leave the graveyard, Silas can, and he does in order to find food, clothing, and eventually books for the baby dubbed Nobody Owens. There are all sorts of tantalizing hints about Silas, but since I have read this before, I won’t spoil anything.

In Chapter Two, we’ve moved ahead a few years and Nobody meets his first living friend, a girl his age. The graveyard has been deemed a Wildlife Preserve, so all sorts of folks use it to stroll around in admiring bushes and headstones. I live in the American Southwest, where big wide open spaces abound and the idea of making a graveyard a preserve struck me as odd. But if you stopped putting dead folk in it decades ago and the natural flora and fauna have moved back in, why not? Anyway, Bod and his new friend explore the place together, including tunneling into the oldest grave, a burial mound from ancient times.

Let’s talk about this, because all sorts of weird stuff happened in a short time. There was an old dusty body, then a phantasmic scarecrow that both youths could see, and then the Sleether. The body I get (previous graverobber wannabe). The rest, even on second read, I am still a bit fuzzy on. Perhaps the Sleether has some residual magic (the scarecrow) that it uses to scare off the weak of heart and imbecilic of mind. Unfortunately, these kids weren’t those things, and so the Sleether had to answer the door personally, enjoying a little chat with Bod. The kids flee, and while she is reunited with her parents Bod chats with Silas about what he found in the burial mound. Oddly, Silas doesn’t seem concerned about the Sleether or about Bod playing with it.

Chapter Two ends with Bod’s friend moving away and she fussed at her parents until they brought her to the Preserve one more time just so she could say goodbye. I thought that was touching.

Chapter Three introduces one of my favorite characters of the book, Miss Lupescu. I can just see her with a ruler, cracking knuckles of bored and unprepared students. Despite her lessons, Bod still ends up playing with the ghouls. I have always been of the opinion (snotty it may seem) that it is best to be explicit in describing dangers to kids. Pictures can help get the idea across. Yet, in so many stories, as in real life, the true meaning of the word DANGEROUS is not fully explained to the main character and must be experienced. Bod made a horrible mistake by playing with the ghouls. However, he did have a mini vacation, catching a glimpse of Ghulheim and meeting a Night Gaunt. Miss Lupescu had to cut the adventure short to ensure Bod didn’t become a permanent resident…. or dinner.

And then I turned the page and started Chapter Four, got four sentences into it, and forced myself to put it down. I know; I’m naughty, yet self-controlled.

So what stood out for you in Nobody’s life in the graveyard?

Any newbies want to guess on Silas?

Can you imagine learning your letters from headstones?

Should I do a Graveyard Book dinner for my man featuring the Food from Miss Lupescu’s Kitchen?

Why do you think the 33rd US president made an appearance in this book?

The Graveyard Book Read Along

Stainless Steel Droppings has the schedule up! Hooray! This is a fun reading event featuring one of my favorite books. If you want to play along, it is not too late – head over to Stainless Steel Droppings to sign up. This read along is part of the larger event R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril in which readers can pick a variety of levels to challenge one’s self – and I am surprised how much of my reading material fits into the parameters of this reading event! Who knew I read so much dark fantasy, crime, mystery, etc. With this read along, there are two additional mini-events that you can read about at the end of Stainless Steel Droppings’ post.

This will be a re-read for me, having read The Graveyard Book a few years ago. I contemplated doing the audio version (read by Neil Gaiman himself), but I find it difficult to stop at the correct place – I have a tendency to press on and with this book I could see myself finishing it easily in a few sittings (it’s that entertaining). So I will be reading along in my trusty paperbook, bookmark in hand.

In Carl’s words:

Read Chapters 1-3:

How Nobody Came to the Graveyard
The New Friend
The Hounds of God

from October 1st through October 6th. Post your thoughts on these chapters on Sunday, October 7th.

Read Chapters 4-6:

The Witch’s Headstone
Danse Macabre
Interlude: The Convocation
Nobody Owens’ School Days

from October 8th through October 13th. Post your thoughts on these chapters on Sunday, October 14th.

Read Chapters 7-8:

Every Man Jack
Leavings and Partings

from October 14th through October 20th. Post your thoughts on these final chapters/the book on Sunday, October [21st].