“What, another Neil Gaiman book?!” I hear you ask. Yes, I know, but hear me out: Gaiman’s, like, really good at this whole writing thing so just let me fangirl one more time… Probably one more time… He’s written a lot of books though…
First, let’s address the fact that I gave it a perfect score. This is not something I do regularly, since I can usually find something about the novel that, while it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, did leave something to be desired. However, this is one of those rare occasions when I found myself thinking, “This is a really good book,” whilst I was reading it. Sure, that can take you out of the novel–which can suck–but I’m willing to let this one slide. So, what, exactly, is it about this book that made me think this way? I’m glad you asked.
I knew that this novel was going to have something interesting to say when the main character was given the name Nobody (or Bod)–I mean, hard to miss what kind of theme the novel would have. And who hasn’t felt like a nobody at some point in their lives? But names can be pretty powerful things. Their as close to a label you can get and, like labels, it’s mostly out of your control.
More than that is how Bod exists in two worlds: the living and the dead–and yet is not fully part of either. This goes beyond just the literal meaning though since being an adolescent is being between the world of being a kid and being an adult. Bod struggles to figure out which world he belongs in, if either, while also being unable to give up either as well.
I think we can all relate to this–there is no actual marker for when you stop being a child and start being an adult. Slowly, expectations change and responsibilities increase. One day you’re going about your life and realise that you’ve been doing this “grown-up” thing for a while and didn’t notice. And yet the child within never really goes away (she said hopefully).
Liminal fantasy hides the threshold, suggesting that the boundaries between fantasy and reality are elusive or insignificantSándor Klapcsik
In fact, most of this novel is about breaking down boundaries and crossing thresholds. One such boundary is that between what is perceived as a monster and what is “normal” (whatever that word is supposed to mean). Many of the characters the reader gets to know are traditionally monsters: ghosts, vampires, ghouls, etc. And yet they are normalized within the world of the graveyard. The only other human the reader is introduced to in the first chapter besides Bod is the murderer who is trying to track down baby Bod and kill him; it is the ghosts that save Bod’s life.
I love this challenge to the ordinary, especially in a novel with this kind of theme to it. For one, being perceived as odd or weird can make you feel like a monster because people don’t like things they don’t understand and lash out. Bod can’t understand why the humans he interacts with can’t do what he can, or why they can’t see the supernatural world of the graveyard like he can. In fact, he spends most of his time in the human world trying to be invisible–a feeling I remember having all the time as a kid.
This novel does a wonderful job of incorporating what I love most about old horror and monster fiction: the use of monsters as metaphors for human traits and/or experiences. A ghost itself is stuck between the living and the dead–a mock-imitation of both.
Overall, it’s a fantastic passive read, but I have grown to love it even more as I dig deeper into what the novel really has to say. Just read it, okay?
Millet, Aleesa Marie. “Only a Body ‘Who Nobody Owns:” Adolescent Identity in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.” Eastern Michigan University, 2015.