Book Review: “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman

Coraline book coverThe name-sake character of Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline is a bored young girl whose family has recently moved into a strange old house filled, by and large, with strange old people. Left to entertain herself by her always-too-busy parents, Coraline sets off exploring the grounds, meeting the neighbors, and puzzling over the strange door in the front parlor that opens onto a plain brick wall.

Except one night, Coraline finds the door open, and beyond it is no brick wall, at all, but a corridor. Unable to repress her insatiable curiosity, Coraline walks down the corridor only to find herself… home.

But then, not home at all.

Instead, she finds heself in a near-duplicate of her own home — the same, but different. Better. Where her toy chest is filled with the standard complement of neglected dolls and playsets, her “other toy chest” is filled with living toys that fly and zoom around and perform for her. Where her downstairs neighbors sit around reminiscing about the theater they once performed in years and years ago, her “other neighbors” run a theater in their own house, performing to an audience of talking dogs. Where the black cat roaming her yard at home is aloof and standoffish — as cats all are — here the cat talks and gives her advice (when its not being aloof and standoffish — as all cats are).Where her parents were too distracted and busy to play with her, and awful cooks, her “other parents” dote on her and feed her banquet of delicious foods.

And all her other parents ask is that she stay and be their daughter. Forever.

It doesn’t take Coraline long to realize there’s something wrong, sinister even, about her other parents and her other house, but by then it’s too late. Her other mother has her mind set on having Coraline as a daughter, and Coraline must be clever and, more important, brave to save not only herself, but her mother and the other poor souls trapped by the other mother.

Coraline won Gaiman a handful of honors, including the Hugo and Nebula awards for best speculative fiction novella, and they’re well-earned; it’s really a fabulous book. If you have kids that enjoy delightfully creepy tales (or even if you enjoy dark, creepy fare), Coraline is your pick — it’s well-crafted, amusing, and suspenseful, a real page-turner with an upbeat message to counter-balance it’s grim, dark fantasy. Highly recommended.

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