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Growing up in the graveyard, Nobody, who goes by Bod, learns that being given the Freedom of the Graveyard means having abilities that the living do not. Bod can see in the dark, hide himself from the world of the living, and can even learn, with practice, how to Fade, Slide, and Dreamwalk. Silas teaches him the alphabet by giving Bod the task of tracing all the letters of the alphabet from the tombstones in the graveyard.
One day, Bod befriends a five-year-old girl, Scarlett Amber Perkins, who has wandered while her mother reads by the chapel. Scarlett and Bod are close in age, and Scarlett calls Bod her friend. They practice the alphabet by copying names from the tombstones. That evening at home, Scarlett’s parents assume that the boy she met is an imaginary friend. Every weekday afternoon, Bod leads Scarlett through the graveyard telling her about the inhabitants. Scarlett tells Bod that her father is a particle physics professor and her mother is an online English professor. When Scarlett asks who the oldest person in the graveyard is, Bod says that it is probably the Roman, Caius Pompeius. Scarlett learns from her parents over dinner that the Celts were around before the Romans. When Bod asks Caius Pompeius if there were others before him in the graveyard, Caius tells him that there was someone before the Celts buried at the very top of the hill.
One spring day, Bod and Scarlett decide to investigate the Frobisher’s mausoleum where the oldest occupant of the graveyard is rumored to reside. Behind a coffin, Bod and Scarlett find stairs leading down to a dark room. Bod can see in the dark, so he guides Scarlett as they go down and describes to her what he sees. There’s an old corpse on the ground. At the end of the room, a purple-skinned figure named the Indigo Man approaches and warns them to leave. Because Scarlett, who can’t see dead people, can see the Indigo Man, Bod realizes it’s imaginary. Scarlett and Bod ignore his death threats and Bod tells him that his attempts to scare them won’t work. Afterward, the Indigo Man disappears.
Scarlett and Bod then hear something slithering around the room. Bod hears voices that pronounce themselves as the Sleer, claiming they protect the place for their master and guard its treasures: a brooch, a goblet, and a knife. Bod suggests they leave and guides Scarlett back upstairs. When they exit the mausoleum, Scarlett and Bod find Scarlett’s parents, along with a police officer, searching for her. Bod disappears, and later that evening tells Silas about the events of the day, including the Sleer. Bod does not see Scarlett again for three weeks. When Scarlett finally returns to the graveyard, she tells Bod that her family is moving to Scotland. Before she leaves, she tells Bod that he is a very courageous boy and should explore the outside world sometime.
As a coming-of-age story, Bod’s character growth is always influenced by his status as a human child living in the graveyard. His physical appearance, pale and dressed in a shroud, creates an image of a living boy who resembles the ghosts he lives with. The Freedom of the Graveyard, which makes Bod capable of hiding from the living, influences Bod’s relationship with the outside world and how he views himself. Bod chooses to reveal himself to Scarlett, revealing a natural curiosity and openness. He teaches himself to read and pushes himself to discover the meanings of Latin tombstone inscriptions, further underscoring his curious nature. Bod’s conversations with and about dead characters from various historical periods provide him with a sense of the depth of time that came before him that most young children cannot yet grasp. Bod appreciates the reality of the past because he knows and talks to people who lived through it. When he first enters the graveyard as a toddler, he is fearless because he does not understand the danger that threatens him, but as a young boy facing the Indigo Man, Bod is fearless because he has learned from the graveyard that fear cannot injure him. Both the graveyard surroundings and his innate traits influence Bod’s coming of age.
Bod’s friendship with Scarlett serves to compare Bod’s unusual upbringing among the dead to that of a child living in the regular world. Whereas Bod is grey to the point of sometimes being invisible, like a ghost, Scarlett is visually striking. The narrator constantly describes her in terms of the bright colors she wears. Her very name, Scarlett Amber, is two color words. However, Scarlett and Bod are alike in their loneliness. He is the only living person in his confined world, while Scarlett belongs to a family that moves around so often that she cannot maintain friendships. Scarlett resembles Bod in her curiosity and bravery, as she displays when she explores the ancient tomb with him. Her analytical mind makes the comparison of the Indigo Man to something from her own experience, a scarecrow. Both Bod and Scarlett’s similarities and complementary differences of character, even more than their young age, make it natural for their friendship to develop quickly.
Scarlett’s farewell remarks to Bod foreshadow important elements of the story’s action. When she tells him that he will grow up to live in the outside world, she accurately describes Bod’s future. Bod’s denial of the truth of her words makes the foreshadowing even more apparent. His belief that he can only be safe in the graveyard shows that in spite of his bright mind, he is still a young child who repeats what he has been told without questioning it. Her declaration of friendship hints at her eventual reappearance in the story. Scarlett is the first friend Bod has made, he has invited her to share the secrets of his world, and she will therefore remain important to him. Scarlett adds that Bod is brave, a truth that has already appeared in the story more than once. Her comment also suggests that he may need to be brave again as the novel progresses. Scarlett’s simple yet astute assessment of Bod lends weight to her prediction about his future outside the graveyard.