After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Before I say anything I have to admit that I absolutely loved this book, I have read some of the reviews on Goodreads and the reviews are very mixed, so if you want a negative review of this book, you aren’t going to find it here. This is a review from someone who absolutely adored the book and the characters, the plotline and everything else. Can I just add that the illustrations all the way through are absolutely gorgeous and if you have an edition without them you are really missing out.
One of the things I truly adored about this book was the disjointed narrative, the time jumps and the way that each chapter kind of feels like its own short story, but the tenuous links between them makes them a slightly incoherent novel. It was wonderful, and I think that it makes the book more suited to children which it was initially intended for. You would be able to read a chapter a night and then the next be learning something completely about the same characters. I loved that aspect of it. I could see a young child being more into the disjointed part of it rather than a complete coherent novel which can be taxing on a small child’s attention span.
The characters I thought were amazingly well-written even with the disjointed story and the time jumps I felt connected and interested. Bod, and the way that he is within the graveyard and the people or ghosts whichever you want to call them. The way that he utilises them all for different things, and you learn something new about the world from each of them. I fell in love with Bod, just a little bit at a time, I fell in love with the overly curious toddler that we first meet, and the young man at the end. His character progression is wonderfully disjointed along with the narrative and I think that brings something more to the character, some people have picked up on the narrative between Scarlett and Bod as being too old, I will be honest, and say I didn’t even realise, so I can’t comment on that.
Now onto the in-depth thought process…
I have to begin with saying how much I enjoyed the description of the overactive toddler clambering out of his cot and choosing the open front door instead of his prison of a cot. I thought that this was such a nice change to the little kids I usually read, where they stand and walk around cutely as though there for the other character’s amusement. We can’t discuss the fact that the toddler is running away without talking about Jack who had left the door open, at this point, I have to say that Jack’s reaction to the baby being gone was one of the best written, the description of him growling was fantastic, ‘He growled in the back of the back of his throat, like a beast of prey, angry and frustrated.’ I really enjoyed this introduction to Jack and the threat that he imposes, it was really good writing.
After being taken in by the graveyard, there is the matter of naming this lost baby, and I was so overwhelmed with love, they chose a name that had no other connotations but that night. They chose a name that is only for him, ‘He looks like nobody but himself,’ said Mrs Owens, firmly. ‘He looks like nobody.’ ‘Then Nobody it is,’ said Silas. ‘Nobody Owens.’ I really do love this part, the fact that this child who no one knows anything about is given a completely new start with no questions asked. This love carries on when they use everything in their power to teach him what he needs, using the gravestones to trace out his letters and teach him how to read using something so morbid. I thought it was the first of juxtaposing that which frightens us the most, death.
We finally meet Scarlett whose family has moved to the area and allows her to play in the graveyard near their house. She meets our little boy Bod who is walking around talking to invisible people, leading to her rationalising him as having an imaginary friend. Which funnily enough is what her own parents have called Bod to her, it was a typical moment of a child regurgitating what they had heard and trying to apply it to her own life. It was well written and well integrated into the story and it fleshed out a secondary character that could have been really boring.
When her family moves away and leaves Bod without anyone, things couldn’t have gotten any worse but Silas his guardian leaves him and brings in Miss Lupescu, who is the typical hated teacher until she comes to his rescue but the run up I thought it was absolutely hilarious, the way that she puts his ‘night-gaunt’ cry down as adequate. I just thought that the exchanges between the two of them were well written and funny.
I think that the highlight of the book was the part in which the world of the ghouls was described, beginning with the sky and how vivid it was ‘The sky was red, but not the warm red of sunset. This was an angry, glowering red, the colour of an infected wound’ and to me this was absolutely beautiful in a gross sort of way. I thought that by this point that things couldn’t get any better and they did, we reach a city and the description took my breath away, ‘It was a city that had been built just to be abandoned, in which all fears and madness and revulsions of the creatures who built it were made into stone. The ghoul-folk had found it and delighted in it and called it home.’ I just can’t wrap my head around the way he wrote it and made it completely wonderful, I would give anything to be able to write like that. I am astounded by it.
Silas’ humour after the ghoul experience made me laugh alot and I found it refreshing. Silas was one of the best characters and the words of wisdom that he was always giving out. The way in which he tells Bod about why people kill themselves and are unable to live in the world of the living anymore, and says ‘Its like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.’ I just wish that this kind of advice had been given to me as a kid.
Liza Hempstock, can we please just appreciate the connection to The Ocean at the End of the Lane I really loved this glimpse into another book, I adored the Hempstock family in TOATEOTL and it was really nice to have some more of the sass such as the humour about her being a witch and being on trial. I really enjoyed that part of the book and her running commentary all the way through the book.
One thing that made me really happy was how at home Bod seemed so at home with the dead and within the graveyard and despite growing up in a graveyard the only time he felt abandoned and panicked was when the dead had gone missing. I thought that this was beautiful, and such a change from the dead being associated with eating brains and haunting people. It was at this moment that I finally realised that although these people were dead that Bod genuinely felt attached to them, and that they were his only family, and to be without them was hard. It was beautifully done, and I adored this part.
I think one of my favourite parts is when Bod doesn’t see dying as a bad thing and Silas objects and tells him about his potential ‘They are. And they are for the most part, done with the world. You are not. You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.’ This really was my favourite part, I love the thought behind this and the way that Silas genuinely cares for Bod’s living memory.
As we get to the end of the book it becomes clear that the threat of Jack is coming back, and we meet Jay Frost and although he turns out to be an evil murderer I really enjoyed the ramblings, although the fact that it was all lies becomes apparent I still found it hilarious, ‘Eating for one. Living on my own. Bit of a crusty old bachelor. Actually in the papers, that always means gay, doesn’t it? Not gay, just never met the right woman.’ I just think that this is such an awkward conversation but it’s so realistic it made me laugh a lot.
I think that the thought process that Scarlett has when she’s in danger about the phone, and the stupidity of talking to her mother about getting a phone, and then the fear sets in, and she realises all she wants is her mother and go home to her. It was such a realistic moment and I could see myself thinking the same thing if I was ever in the same situation.
Then we come to the ending which is so bittersweet it aches. I feel as though when Bod says goodbye to his mother it made my heart hurt, and that was the moment where I knew this book was so perfect. I loved this book, and this is the second of Gaiman’s works that I’ve read and I really do look forward to reading more.