The was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.
Without having read the book in several years, I can still recall the iconic opening line perfectly. Gaiman is a talented writer, and this book shows it well; from the masterful opening line to the clever and effective illustrations interspersed throughout.
Even with such a violent opening and with death as its core theme, The Graveyard Book is very much a children’s story – one about a child, from that child’s point of view, with the narration speaking to a child reader. It’s much less a childish reader, or one who does not understand death, so much as it addresses the child in the reader’s heart – the child that understood death on an instinctual level, unencumbered by negative emotion, and was innocent in this understanding.
The plot is simple in the way that emotional stories must be to be truly effective, focusing more on the characters, their relationships, and what the young protagonist learns through each action or interaction.
The nonhuman characters are not verbally labeled as their respective species or creature type, but shown in the narrative through small things that the protagonist notices. He has no words to name his loved ones for what they are, as he was never given the words to do so; his understanding of death is much the same. Without being taught to fear death or view it as a wholly negative thing, he only sees it for what it is: the end of one’s living life and the beginning of their death.
It’s a quick, light read with a good amount of emotional catharsis at the end, the perfect book to read when one feels the sting of an old loss.