I’ve seen several bloggers describe Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book as “whimsical”. I’ve heard this word now and again but have never been sure about what it means. So I looked it up. It means “quaintly humorous, odd”, the perfect description for this book.
In his afterword, Gaiman gives a nod to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as some similarities between the two books exist, though differences put each book on its own pedestal. A baby boy wanders into a graveyard after his family is brutally murdered. The boy spends his childhood being raised by the ghostly inhabitants. As the graveyard’s existence reaches back a thousand years, each ghost contributes something different in terms of history and human nature to the unusual education of the boy referred to as Nobody Owens, or Bod for short.
Bod’s guardian, Silas, provides him with the wisdom of someone who is neither dead or alive, who travels by night, who does not eat real food, and who has no reflection in mirrors. The reader can make a good guess as to what sort of being Silas is, though, in an intelligent move, Gaiman never comes right out and says it.
Each of the eight chapters in the book tells a separate story, though they all come together at the end. The mystery of Bod’s human family slowly unravels and he learns lessons about revenge and friendship from his dealings with his family’s enemies. In spite of Bod’s adventures with monsters and scary beings, Gaiman maintains the subtlety and quiet that a whimsical story would provide, right down to its last whimsical line:
But between now and then, there was Life, and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.