In chapter one, an assassin kills an entire family, but the toddler (always one to wander off) manages to walk out of the house without him noticing. The little boy walks to the graveyard just up the hill. The ghosts at the graveyard see him and hear the pleas of the ghost of his mother. They shelter him from the killer, and a couple of them adopt him. (Mr. and Mrs. Owens, married not just until death do them part but for a good 250 years now.)
The boy, now called Nobody Owens, grows up among the ghosts. He learns their ways and their skills. He never leaves the graveyard, because the assassin is still looking to kill him.
This is The Jungle Book set in a graveyard, with ghouls instead of monkeys and a werewolf instead of a python. There is adventure, danger, learning, fun, and some appropriately scary scenes (it’s a children’s book after all). There are delightfully weird characters. And in the end, of course, there is the inevitable return to life among other humans.
The book is imaginative, well-written, fun and poetic – everything a good Neil Gaiman book usually is. The plot is a bit shallower and the tone a bit more charming than in his adult fiction, but nevertheless really enjoyable. The one downside, according to some reviewers, is that it is perhaps a bit too closely inspired by The Jungle Book, but since I don’t have any fresh memories of that book (having last read it over twenty years ago) it never bothered me.