Johnny and the Dead is a book about a boy who can see and talk to the deceased folks in his local graveyard. Terry Pratchett uses this short kids’ novel to deal with the importance for living people to remember the dead (and the dead people to forget the living). The basic plot is that the village council wants to put in a new condo development on the graveyard and the dead people tell Johnny to stop them. Johnny gets his friends together and (this is where the book really shines) do not organize a protest or anything big and outside the scope of what a bunch of 11-year-olds could conceivably do, they just ask questions about the people who are in the graveyard.
Now, it’s Terry Pratchett writing this, so the characters are funny, but the situations never really are. Even though it’s a bit dated (it’s from the ’90s), it’s a pretty excellent story for Remembrance Day, especially since it talks about how sad it is that soldiers go off and die (instead of doing some bullshit celebratory thing about their noble sacrifices or whatever). Also, it’s the middle book of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, but I haven’t read the first one and did not feel like I was missing anything.
I almost didn’t reread The Graveyard Book for this SF librarianship class. I already knew I loved this Neil Gaiman book, so maybe I could spend my time better.
There is no better way to spend your time than reading about Nobody Owens, especially if you’re thinking about change and life and growing up and the future.
The story starts off with a toddling baby’s family having just been murdered. A man with a knife is climbing the stairs to kill the baby. Some people get squeamish about this being a kids’ book at this point. The baby toddles off up the street and heads into the graveyard where a family of ghosts takes him in and Silas undertakes to be the boy’s guardian. They hide him in the graveyard and the murderer’s mind is muddled and there you have it.
Now the book can begin.
It’s done in a series of short accounts of Nobody Owens’ life. There are ghouls and witches and a tutor who makes terrible soup, and Bod learns history from the people who were actually there (it’s very idiosyncratic). There’s a girl who thinks he’s her imaginary friend and there are bullies at school and police and a bunch of murderous men with something in common who’re looking for him and it’s all so good.
This is a book of atmosphere, of creepiness and funniness and all that good stuff Gaiman brings to everything he does. It’s written for kids and doesn’t need to talk down to them to do it. And I dare you to suggest a better coming of age and heading out into the world than in the end when Nobody leaves the graveyard.
It’s so fucking good. There’s a reason I give this one as gifts to all and sundry.