Saturday, July 6, 2013


by Neil Gaiman

The young girl of the title moves into a big new house with her kindly but preoccupied parents. She meets some humorously daft neighbors, like the two elderly ex-actresses steeped in nostalgia, and the old man upstairs who says he is training mice to play oompah oompah songs. There’s also a spooky door which seems to open onto a brick wall but actually leads to another world, similar to our own, constructed just for Coraline. There she meets her "other" family, with black buttons for eyes, who want only to keep her forever in this world that has better food, the colors she likes, and attentive parents, if only they can make her just like them. With the help of a mysterious cat, Coraline determines to rescue her real parents, and some additional captives, from the evil force behind this other world.

This is a deliciously dark novel, sure to delight children with the chills it sends down their backs. Gaiman’s descriptive prose and Dave McKean’s illustrations work together to enforce the menacing tone and creepy air: “Her other mother's hand scuttled off Coraline's shoulder like a frightened spider;” the voice “made Coraline think of some kind of enormous dead insect.” And just like a good horror movie, there’s a false ending of eerie calm before the truly final showdown. Gaiman offers a lesson in maturity here, as well, underneath the supernatural thrills. Coraline realizes that getting whatever she wants, all the time, which the other mother tempts her with, wouldn’t be fun or “mean anything.” This ominous, funny, offbeat, scary, sweet modern fairy tale is superb. I can’t imagine why it wasn’t at least nominated for the Newbery.

five stars

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