“You’re always you, and that don’t change….”
October breezes are quickly blowing the days away and here we come to the end of our group read of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I have mentioned often that I am experiencing this on audio for the ???th time (its been several, that is all I can say with certainty) and despite my familiarity with both the story and with Gaiman’s telling of it I have enjoyed “reading” this as much as anything else I have partaken of this year. I’m not sure what makes a classic “classic”, but The Graveyard Book feels like a book that could legitimately be enjoyed for a long, long time.
What follows will be a discussion of the final two chapters and spoilers will be present for those who have not read the story. If that is you, consider adding this to your ‘to be read’ pile.
The series of interrelated short stories that make up the book thus far culminate in two intense, packed chapters. In Chapter 7 we see the return of Scarlett into Bod’s life. I like the way Neil handles this with the dream walk meeting of the two before they actually meet again in person. One of the things that strikes me whenever I read this book is to wonder about Scarlett. Is it simply that she is a child and her child-like faith and imagination cause her to see Bod early on and that familiarity allows her to sense/see him as a teen or is there something else about her? I suspect there is something else. I think she too has something special about her but sadly it comes to naught as her fears and suspicions get the better of her. Not that I blame her. Scarlett’s reactions are normal and although it is a pity that she and Bod cannot be friends, or more, it is nonetheless an authentic reaction that Gaiman gives to Scarlett.
We get to see more of the Jacks of all Trades and they are a nasty bunch. I enjoy that in contrast we get to see snippets of a much larger group of Honor Guard members who are acting, mostly offstage, in defense of young Bod. The glimpses we get of the battles being fought are very brief but Gaiman uses them so effectively, allowing our imaginations and reasoning to fill in the gaps of what is occurring. It breaks my heart that Miss Lupescu dies. I give kudos to Gaiman for not shying away from death in a young adult novel. In a novel that treats the dead as having a ‘life’ of some sort which in a way lessens the impact of the subject of death in children’s literature, Gaiman has the courage to show that sometimes sacrifices have to be made and sometimes even the ‘good guys’ die. Still, I hate it when Bod is informed. I always secretly hope that this time will be different, that this time Miss Lupescu will have made it through.
I’ll be curious to see if anyone felt the fact that J. Frost was ‘the man Jack’ was too obvious right from the beginning. I am not sure that it matters much to the overall story because it is still very suspenseful. I think Gaiman does a nice job of toying with the reader, giving just enough to think that ‘maybe this isn’t him’ before committing fully to the idea. Given that we don’t actually get to see much of the enemy during the whole of the novel I enjoy that we get this ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ view of him for a time before Bod figures out who he really is.
As the book comes to a close we get to see Bod come into his own. It is a really nice transition, a good “coming of age” event, as Bod realizes that it is time he protect himself and in so doing he also steps up to protect Scarlett. I also enjoy the fact that Bod doesn’t do it all on his own, as that is not what life is all about. His friends, the dead, help him by keeping an eye on the attackers, reporting to Bod, etc. and I love that. “No man is an island”…I love that Gaiman embraces that truism in his handling of Bod’s transition to young adulthood. Not long after Bod’s ultimate triumph come his series of bittersweet moments. First he loses the friendship of Scarlett and then, even more painfully for me as a reader, he begins to lose his relationships in the graveyard. I ache as Bod begins to lose his ability to see and speak to the dead. As each of those fade away from him I cannot help but wish he could have had a last moment with each of them. I love the humor in Mother Slaughter’s memories of what happened when Bod first entered their lives and how the story makes her look good. I feel so sorry for Liza Hempstock and for the life she was cheated from as we see her lose one that she loves. I feel so bad for the Owens’ and that even though they got to see their boy “grow up” that there will be so much of his future life that they will not be a part of. And of course I find it both joyous and sad that Bod has to get on with actually having a life.
This is another area where I give such kudos to Gaiman. A teenager is not the same emotionally or in maturity as he/she will be as an adult. Although we expect Bod to be a little sad about his partings it is perfectly normal and natural to see that he is actually more focused on the excitement ahead of him and the adventures he is about to have. As an adult I would like to see him understand the pain of what is happening more deeply but I also understand that even the most insightful teenager will not react the same way as they would as an adult with a lot of life experience.
The Graveyard Book is a bittersweet story, to be sure, with much more sweet and only the same ‘bitter’ that we all experience. It is a book that never fails to bring a tear to my eye and choke me up a bit as it all comes to an end. On the audio we are treated to a longer musical sequence of the instrumental that is featured at the beginning and end of each disk. It is a special little addition that I hope you will all experience some day. The Graveyard Book not only reminds me of just how good young adult literature can be regardless of age, it reminds me of my own transitions in life and makes me want to love and appreciate those around me.
Thank you all so much for going on this journey with me. I have been so busy at work and home during this read with projects that are taking place at both places and I want you to know that I have greatly appreciated everyone taking part. I’ll be catching up on the posts I missed and enjoying your reactions to the book.
Before we go to the link section I wanted to announce a winner! A handful of you participated in Wednesday’s post about “coming of age” and of those who linked their post I let the Random Number Generator do its thing and it chose:
When she returns from vacation and reopens her shop, you can pick a print from Gothicrow and email me your choice and your details and I’ll have her send it your way. Congrats!!!
Please be sure to share your link to your final Graveyard Book discussion post. It has been a pleasure experiencing this book with all of you, thanks again for your participation!