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September 29

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Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

by Ann-Katrina


From the Back Cover of Coraline

When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous. But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wits and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

Three Quick Points About Coraline

  • Point 1: This book is absolutely riveting. Who knew I’d ever use the term riveting to describe a short novel penned for third-graders?
  • Point 2: I’m sure some children will wind up with nightmares after reading it (or having it read to them). I can’t deny that I’m a huge fan of horror and creepy stories; my library as a youth (and even today) tells this tale. But, reading Coraline definitely sent a few chills up my spine…more so than some of the adult novels I’ve read.
  • Point 3: Coraline is a splendid reminder that we (children and adults alike) are all capable of great courage. Coraline has a real child’s personality–not some fantasized version of one–which made her courageous adventures incredibly relatable. I was able to see much of myself, when I was a child, in her and watching her dig deep to find her courage made me want to dig deep and rediscover my own.

Full Review of Coraline

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts.

Coraline Synopsis

A young lady named Coraline (not Caroline. Coraline) Jones, having just moved into a new flat with her parents, found herself embarking on a frightening and exciting adventure.

Since her parents usually found themselves preoccupied, Coraline took it upon herself to explore the new house and its grounds. While exploring, she meets the occupants of the other flats in the house (Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two older ladies who enjoy tea and talks about their previous escapades as theatre actresses; the crazy old man that lives upstairs who’s training his mice to play instruments) and takes note of the abandoned tennis court and the covered well.

One afternoon, however, it’s pouring down rain, so she cannot go and explore outside and her parents are preoccupied, as usual, and Coraline is bored. Her father suggests that she explore her flat and that’s when Coraline finds a locked door. When her mother opened the door, she discovered that it was a brick wall which was separating her current flat from the empty flat next to them.

The following day, when Coraline finds herself bored again, she manages to get the key and open up the door. This time, instead of a brick wall, it opened into a dark corridor. Wanting to see what the other empty flat would look like, she follows it and finds herself in a room that looked very much like her own–furniture and all. In this world, she discovers that she had an other mother and other father. In fact, this world–at first sight–seemed much more interesting and fun than her real world.

But, Coraline soon discovered that things weren’t as they appeared in that other world and she suddenly found herself fighting for her life, the life of her real parents, and three souls which had been trapped. With a gift from Miss Spinks and Miss Forcible, some advice from the mice of the crazy old man who lives upstairs, the guidance of a haughty black cat, and Coraline’s own wits and courage, she manages to take us all on a wonderful journey while learning a few good life lessons along the way.

Final Thoughts On Coraline

It would be quite easy to finish Coraline in a single sitting and not necessarily because of its short length, but because the story pushes you forward. You constantly want to know which new adventure she’ll discover, which new creature will jump from the shadows, and how she’ll get herself out of the nightmare she’s in.

Although this book doesn’t get deeply into gory details (there are a few droplets of blood, but nothing worse than a child would see if she were to watch a stray cat hunting a mouse or bird in the field), it’s certainly creepy enough to make you want to put the lights on if you’re reading it in the dark.

The book built suspense…

"[The other mother] picked Coraline up and pushed her into the dim space behind the mirror. A fragment of beetle was sticking to her lower lip, and there was no expression at all in her black button eyes.

Then she swung the mirror door closed, and left Coraline in darkness."

…and deposited paranoid thoughts in the corner of your mind (was that a shadow I just saw crawling along the wainscoting? or I could have sworn something just moved behind the chair.). But, not only that, it showed the reader that all of the frightful creatures and circumstances could be handled effectively with some measure of wit and courage.

This story was masterfully told with subtle undertones. For instance, Gaiman never tells us explicitly what creature Coraline is facing, but it’s alluded to. (Hint: Pay attention to the cat’s narration.)  Coraline’s mother and father, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, the crazy old man that lives upstairs (he does have a name, but I don’t want to spoil the story by giving it away), the black cat, and Coraline herself are all crafted with care. They each display distinct, unique, and sometimes fanciful, but believable personalities.

Although there were illustrations throughout, they didn’t all speak to me. For the most part, they did add to the chilling effect of the story, but a few seemed misplaced. Frankly, the story would have been just as good without the illustrations, but they were a nice touch–especially for younger readers.

Coraline certainly is the type of book that could get more kids involved with reading. It appeals to their curious spirit, wild imagination, and it delivers the message that the things that go bump in the night can be conquered.

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

–G. K. Chesterton

Rating: Required reading (?)

I nabbed this book at the thrift store because the cover looked interesting and because it was only a quarter. :) However, it looks as though there’s a newer edition of the book available on Amazon. Not sure what the differences are, so unless you feel like splurging, I’d suggest going with the mass market paperback that’s part of the 4 for 3 deal.

Comments on Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

  1. # Brie wrote on September 29, 2008 at 7:34 pm:

    I have this book. I got it for the RIP 3 Challenge and haven’t read it yet. I think I will do that this weekend. Great review, as always.

  2. # Ann-Kat wrote on September 30, 2008 at 1:07 pm:

    I certainly believe you’ll enjoy it.

    Oh, and this happens to be the other book that mentions the name Jemima. It was quite a little jolt for me to brush past the name so soon after Can You Keep a Secret? and was thankful that it was only mentioned about two or three times total.

  3. # Brie wrote on September 30, 2008 at 2:31 pm:

    So I was curious and looked up the name Jemima in relation to Europe and apparently it is a popular name in the UK. There we have it!

  4. # Carl V. wrote on October 3, 2008 at 2:01 pm:

    Coraline is indeed a wonderful book. If you are in the mood for a similar but wholly wonderful all on its own read I recommend Gaiman’s very latest, just out this week, entitled The Graveyard Book.

  5. # Alessandra wrote on October 5, 2008 at 5:56 am:

    I loved Coraline too. Great review!

    Your blog template is great, by the way.

  6. # mari wrote on October 11, 2008 at 7:51 pm:

    A wonderful book. I also read this for RIP.
    Great Review!

  7. # Sunday Salon: Keys & Graveyards, Unicorns & Interludes, and a Few Ghosts for Good Measure - Today, I Read… wrote on December 21, 2008 at 4:04 pm:

    [...] been hearing so many wonderful things about this book, and after my reading of Coraline, I’m hooked on Gaiman. Plus, the book was also recommended to me in the [...]

  8. # 2008 in Books, or the Ten Books I’m Glad I Read This Year - Today, I Read… wrote on December 31, 2008 at 5:34 pm:

    [...] by Neil Gaiman (review) When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only [...]

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