Author: Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: received from Cass in the All Hallow's Read book swap!
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
When I was filling out my preferences for the All Hallow's Read swap (courtesy of My Friend Amy's blog), I had a hard time summing up what type of book I preferred. I love Stephen King, but I've read a ton of it. Some crime thrillers are great for me, but others fall terribly flat. I've read 1 Neil Gaiman novel, want to try more, but not sure what.
Well, turns out that lucky me was paired with Cass from Bonjour, Cass!, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Coraline in my mailbox. New-to-me Gaiman, but a middle-grade novella--very different from my previously-read (and loved) Neverwhere. Plus, I haven't seen the movie, so the plot was entirely unknown to me. I was intrigued!
Coraline is a short read, but it instantly transported me back to fifth grade, when I adored Roald Dahl's Matilda (and probably re-read it 10 times that year alone). If you've read both books, you might think that's an odd comparison, but I actually see many similarities. Two young, brave heroines, using their fantastical worlds to their advantage to outsmart the wily adults that rival them. No wonder my long-repressed fifth-grade-self was awakened! I think Matilda and Coraline would get along quite well, in fact. And have many stories to share. (Plus, they're both Brits, so hometown advantage.)
However, the obvious difference between these two books is the scare factor. While Matilda does have its moments (that Miss Trunchbull was a bear), Coraline is written with the Gaiman creepiness that I easily recognized from the adult-focused Neverwhere--and actually, there were several plot points that seemed to mirror things I read in the adult novel. For example, the corridor between Coraline's flat and "other mother's" flat reminded me very much of the Night's Bridge in Neverwhere. And the constant appearance of rats = Neverwhere's Rat Speakers.
Gaiman does not set out to ruin our children's psyches though. In Coraline, there is less full-on fright, and more of an underlying sense of creepiness. An uneasy atmosphere, created through the disconcerting imagery he provides. The black button eyes? The long-nailed white hands? The quiet-but-always-watching rats? None of these things are downright terrifying on their own (okay, maybe the eyes. That was creepy), but taken all together, they provide just enough discomfort to make your spine tingle.
A bit more about Coraline herself. What a precocious and amusing character! Some of her interactions with her parents made me laugh quite a bit:
"'I didn't think you played with your dolls anymore,' said Mrs. Jones.
'I don't,' admitted Coraline. 'They're protective coloration.'
'Well, be back in time for lunch,' said her mother." (p 153)
And much like the hero-children I mentioned in Stephen King novels, her young innocence and wisdom are what lead her to triumph over her more senior foes. (Page 20: "Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense. She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to." Parents just don't understand, y'all.)
I've nearly gone on here as long as the novella itself. Can you tell I enjoyed it? This was truly a book that transported me, mentally, back to my elementary- and middle-school reading years. It is perfectly creepy enough for Halloween, and the eerie feel of Gaiman's other work shines through. But Coraline's personality adds a lightness that makes this perfect for younger readers.
(They might still have nightmares about the black button eyes though. I'm not making any guarantees there. Yick.)
Check out some other reviews of Coraline:
On A Book Bender
The Cheap Reader
On The Wings of Books
What recent reads remind you of your childhood favorites?