The book begins with a rather gruesome double murder by a sinister man named Jack. The two victims happen to be the parents of a little boy toddler, who manages to slip out of the house unnoticed while Jack is busy with his parents. The baby walks up the hill to a nearby cemetery and slips between the bars bypassing the locked gates.
From there, things get a little strange. When implored by the brand-new ghosts of the boy’s parents, a married couple in the cemetery, dead for hundreds of years, decides to adopt the little boy to keep him safe. For reasons that aren’t immediately clear, Jack still wants to kill the boy, and the only place he is safe is within the confines of the cemetery, explains Silas, a mysterious character who is neither alive nor dead and stays in the cemetery’s ancient chapel. Here, he addresses the varied inhabitants of the graveyard, representing a wide range of time periods:
“…For good or for evil – and I firmly believe that it is for good – Mrs. Owens and her husband have taken this child under their protection. It is going to take more than a couple of good-hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”
And that should give you some hint of the wonderful sense of humor in this odd book that is both sweet and spooky, filled with supernatural adventures and tender coming-of-age moments. The graveyard inhabitants name the boy Nobody – Nobody Owens, Bod for short – and he grows up there, among all the ghosts. Silas brings him food and books from the real world outside their gates, he is tutored in various subjects by cemetery residents who were teachers in a former life, and he generally has a very happy childhood.
It’s not all sweetness, though, as the likable Bod discovers some of the darker secrets of the dead and encounters evil through some scary supernatural experiences (plus, Jack is still out there looking for him). As he gets older, he occasionally meets some real people and becomes more curious about what is outside the gates. The whole book is a wonderfully odd, witty mix of magic, adventure, and growing up. It’s all thoroughly delightful.
307 pages, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Younger kids will enjoy Gaiman’s enchanting Norse folk tale, Odd and the Frost Giants, with his trademark wit and whimsy but less fright.
Read more about Neil Gaiman and his books at his website.