While his parents and older sister are being murdered by a sinister man called Jack, a toddler boy creeps out of his English home and ends up in the nearby cemetery. There, the spirits of the boy's parents ask two of the cemetery's residents, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, to care for their son. Childless in life and the few hundred years they've been dead, the Owens proudly accept the challenge in The Graveyard Tale, Neil Gaiman's creepy, adventurous, yet poignant novel of Nobody "Bod" Owens' coming of age.
The cemetery inhabitants grant Bod "Freedom of the Graveyard," allowing him to drift through walls and see in the dark, just as the dead do. But as Mrs. Owens suggests, it will take a graveyard to raise the boy and protect him from malicious spirits and particularly from Jack, who still wants the original, murderous task completed.
Although the graveyard is a constant source of escapades, from the blood-red nights beyond the terrifying ghoul-gate to the midnight dance that joins the living and the dead, Bod wonders about life beyond the cemetery. His curiosity is piqued when he meets Scarlett, first as a young boy when her parents bring her to the nature reserve portion of the cemetery and later at 14 when she returns to the English town after her parents' divorce. Before Bod can leave the graveyard and become fully human, however, he must face his demonsóJack and his ring of cohortsóform his own identity and give heartbreaking good-byes to his childhood caretakers.
While The Graveyard Tale may appear to center on the dead, this original, witty novel is an affirmation of life. Bod accepts his graveyard companions for what they are, while the spirits are often amazed by the boy's infinite potential. Readers will be equally astounded by Gaiman's sharp, spine-tingling storytelling.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2009 Spring
After fortuitously escaping the murder of his family, a toddler is taken in by the ghostly denizens of a local graveyard. Growing up in this strange setting entails many adventures, leading to a final showdown with the murderer. Occasional art enhances the otherworldly atmosphere with a flowing line and deep grays and blacks. This ghost-story-cum-coming-of-age novel is both bittersweet and action-filled. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2008 #6
When a toddler fortuitously escapes the murder of his family by "the man Jack," he is taken in by the ghostly denizens of a local graveyard, renamed Nobody Owens, and ushered through childhood by the kindly Mr. and Mrs. Owens and the enigmatic Silas. (As "Bod" soon learns, there are more kinds of people than just the living and the dead, and Silas falls outside those categories.) Growing up in this strange setting entails many adventures, from getting kidnapped by ghouls, to procuring a headstone for a shunned young woman who was "drownded and burnded" as a witch, to, most dangerous of all, attending school with other living children -- all of which prepare Bod for a final showdown with the man Jack, who has never stopped hunting him. Lucid, evocative prose ("'Look at him smile!' said Mrs. Owens...and with one insubstantial hand she stroked the child's sparse blond hair") and dark fairy-tale motifs imbue the story with a dreamlike quality. Warmly rendered by the author, Bod's ghostly extended family is lovably anachronistic; their mundane, old-fashioned quirks add cheerful color to a genuinely creepy backdrop. McKean's occasional pages and spots of art enhance the otherworldly atmosphere with a flowing line, slightly skewed figures, and plenty of deep grays and blacks. Gaiman's assured plotting is as bittersweet as it is action-filled -- the ending, which is also a beginning, is an unexpected tearjerker -- and makes this ghost-story-cum-coming-of-age-novel as readable as it is accomplished. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2008 August #2
Wistful, witty, wise--and creepy. Gaiman's riff on Kipling's Mowgli stories never falters, from the truly spine-tingling opening, in which a toddler accidentally escapes his family's murderer, to the melancholy, life-affirming ending. Bod (short for Nobody) finds solace and safety with the inhabitants of the local graveyard, who grant him some of the privileges and powers of the dead--he can Fade and Dreamwalk, for instance, but still needs to eat and breathe. Episodic chapters tell miniature gems of stories (one has been nominated for a Locus Award) tracing Bod's growth from a spoiled boy who runs away with the ghouls to a young man for whom the metaphor of setting out into the world becomes achingly real. Childhood fears take solid shape in the nursery-rhyme-inspired villains, while heroism is its own, often bitter, reward. Closer in tone to American Gods than to Coraline, but permeated with Bod's innocence, this needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child. (Illustrations not seen.) (Fantasy. 10 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Express Reviews
A baby survives the killing of his family by a mysterious assassin. He crawls to a nearby graveyard and is adopted by the assortment of spooks who occupy the place, soon to include his own recently murdered parents. There he is christened with a new name: Nobody, or Bod for short. Under the watchful tutelage of the dead, Bod learns reading, writing, history, and a few other useful skills-haunting and "disapparating" [disappearing from a location and reappearing in another]. Why It Is a Best: An elegant combination of Gaiman's masterly storytelling and McKean's lovely drawings, this book also works as a series of independent but connected short stories set two years apart, following Bod from age two to 16. Why It Is for Us: In interviews, Gaiman has said that this book took him years to write, and it was worth the wait. Imagine Kipling's The Jungle Book set among a forest of graves. A complete recording of Gaiman reading the book is available on his web site; see also LJ's video with the author from BEA 2008.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 September #5
A lavish middle-grade novel, Gaiman's first since Coraline , this gothic fantasy almost lives up to its extravagant advance billing. The opening is enthralling: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." Evading the murderer who kills the rest of his family, a child roughly 18 months old climbs out of his crib, bumps his bottom down a steep stairway, walks out the open door and crosses the street into the cemetery opposite, where ghosts take him in. What mystery/horror/suspense reader could stop here, especially with Gaiman's talent for storytelling? The author riffs on the Jungle Book , folklore, nursery rhymes and history; he tosses in werewolves and hints at vampires--and he makes these figures seem like metaphors for transitions in childhood and youth. As the boy, called Nobody or Bod, grows up, the killer still stalking him, there are slack moments and some repetition--not enough to spoil a reader's pleasure, but noticeable all the same. When the chilling moments do come, they are as genuinely frightening as only Gaiman can make them, and redeem any shortcomings. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)[Page 82]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8-- Somewhere in contemporary Britain, "the man Jack" uses his razor-sharp knife to murder a family, but the youngest, a toddler, slips away. The boy ends up in a graveyard, where the ghostly inhabitants adopt him to keep him safe. Nobody Owens, so named because he "looks like nobody but himself," grows up among a multigenerational cast of characters from different historical periods that includes matronly Mistress Owens; ancient Roman Caius Pompeius; an opinionated young witch; a melodramatic hack poet; and Bod's beloved mentor and guardian, Silas, who is neither living nor dead and has secrets of his own. As he grows up, Bod has a series of adventures, both in and out of the graveyard, and the threat of the man Jack who continues to hunt for him is ever present. Bod's love for his graveyard family and vice versa provide the emotional center, amid suspense, spot-on humor, and delightful scene-setting. The child Bod's behavior is occasionally too precocious to be believed, and a series of puns on the name Jack render the villain a bit less frightening than he should be, though only momentarily. Aside from these small flaws, however, Gaiman has created a rich, surprising, and sometimes disturbing tale of dreams, ghouls, murderers, trickery, and family.--Megan Honig, New York Public Library[Page 144]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.