9 Rated Books Book Reviews Neil Gaiman Week

Gaiman Week – Book Review: Coraline

Title: Coraline

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Young Adult, Horror-Fantasy

Why did I read this book: After having read Neil Gaiman’s adult works, I was excited to see how his writing would translate in young adult format! When I read the blurb for Coraline, I had to have it.

Summary: (from amazon.com)
The day after they moved in,
Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author Neil Gaiman will delight readers with his first novel for all ages.


Coraline is a curious, clever little girl.

She, her mother, and her father move into a new, very large apartment–full of mysteries and surprises for Coraline to discover. First, there are her next door neighbors, Miss Forcible and Miss Spink–two elderly retired actresses, who like to revel in memory of their glory days, and who have an obsession with dogs. Then, there is the ‘Crazy Man Upstairs’, named Mr. Bobo–a retired circus performer that tells Coraline he is training his mice friends to be circus mice. As there are no other children around, and Coraline’s parents are frequently too busy with their own work and chores to pay much attention to her, Coraline spends much of her time on her own.

One day, it rains heavily, and Coraline is confined to the large flat while her parents do whatever it is grownups do. After speaking with her neighbors for a short time (who always get her name mixed up and call her Caroline), Coraline gets bored rather quickly, and begins to pester her father. Clever man that Coraline’s father is, he sends her on a mission about the flat–to find certain objects, and to count how many windows and doors the flat has. So, Coraline sets off, dedicated to cataloguing the large, mysterious apartment (which is actually part of a larger old house, now rented out as flats). She discovers that her apartment has twenty one windows and fourteen doors…but the one in the parlor won’t open. When she asks her parents about it, her mother pulls out a key and opens the door–behind it there is a solid brick wall. Coraline’s mother explains that when the house was sectioned off for rent, the next door flat was bricked off completely.

That night, Coraline sees something strange shadow in her room, and she follows it quietly…until it disappears in the drawing room, behind that locked door. The next day, Coraline uses her mother’s key to examine the brick wall again, only to find that the wall has mysteriously disappeared–the locked door now opens to a dark hallway. Coraline, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery (and always up for an adventure), enters the hallway, and finds herself in an identical copy of her family’s flat. What’s even stranger, is that her Other apartment also has identical copies of her Mother and Father–except her Other Mother and her Other Father have flat, shiny black buttons sewed on for eyes.

At first, Coraline’s Other Mother and Other Father are a blast. Her Other Mother dotes on Coraline, and tells her that she has been waiting for her for to come for a long time. Coraline’s Other Room is filled with toys and exciting costume clothes that any little girl would love (especially in comparison to the drab, gray uniform clothes Coraline always has to wear). Coraline’s Other Mother cooks real, interesting food, and seems sweet as can be–besides her strange hands, pale skin, long talons of scarlet nails, and hair that seems to move around on its own. As exciting as the Other land seems, Coraline instinctively knows something is not right. Her Other Mother, with her needle, thread and shiny buttons tells Coraline that she can stay forever; all the Other Mother needs to do is take her eyes and sew buttons on for Coraline.

Coraline, sensing the wrongness of the situation leaves the Other Apartment for her real home, only to find that both of her parents are gone…and they do not return for days. Coraline knows that the Other Mother has stolen her parents, and knows that she must go back to the Other Apartment to find them.

And thus, Coraline’s brave adventure to save her family begins. Armed with her wits, a stone with a hole in it (given to Coraline by her neighbors Miss Forcible and Miss Spinks, who have forseen the danger facing the young girl), and a sarcastic cheshire-like talking cat, Coraline braves the Other World.

As it turns out, the Other Mother is not a mother at all, but a thing called ‘the beldam’, that has created the Other World. She is a collector of children that feeds on their souls once she gets bored of playing with them. Coraline strikes a bargain with the Other Mother–that if she can find the children’s souls, and her parents, all of them get to return to the real world. The Other Mother swears to the bargain on her good right hand, and Coraline must find them all, evading the beldam’s tricks and traps, to return home (beldam, apparently for John Keats’ poem, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’).

This is one heckuva book. Coraline, our heroine, is nothing short of wonderful. She is the first central female character that I have read by Neil Gaiman, and one of my favorites of all his characters, despite this being a “children’s” book (for the record, this book is pretty creepy–just the sort of thing I would have loved as a little girl). Her resourcefulness, bravery, and intelligence (especially when outwitting her Other Mother in dramatic–terrifying–fashion) is a wonder to read; I found myself riveted, biting my nails, and cheering for Coraline the whole way. As always, Neil Gaiman’s characterizations are on point, his prose brisk and flawless. While the concepts and images of this book are scary, the author manages to balance out these very intelligent, horrifying ideas with his quick delivery–made even more believeable as they are filtered through the thoughts of the title character.

This book almost has a Roald Dahl feel to it–it balances the horrific and grotesque (for what else can you call an evil creature that longs to steal your soul and sew your eyes shut with flat black buttons?) with a child’s intrepid bravery. There’s also a touch of Lewis Carroll–as Coraline leaves her world behind for an adventure, with a clever talking cat as a companion. Still, Neil Gaiman manages to take these elements and themes and create something that is entirely his own.

Coraline is also wonderfully illustrated with the incredible art of Dave McKean (who deserves an appreciation week all to himself), who has done the artwork for many a Gaiman work. The black and white illustrations in my copy are atmosphereic and scary without being *too* frightening, and accent the story in all the right places.

And wouldn’t you know it, on June 24th, Coraline was released in Graphic Novel format.

The graphic novel is illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who has also collaborated on The Sandman series, and of Hellboy fame (yay!). Here’s what Neil has to say about the graphic novel (via Harper Collins):

I’ve been a fan of P. Craig Russell’s work since I was about fifteen, when I persuaded my school to let me write about an episode of Killraven in my English exams. He’s one of the most elegant and beautiful artists working in comics today, and one of the things he does better than anyone is adapt things into comics form. He’s adapted operas and Kipling stories; he’s even adapted short stories of mine, and I’ve always loved what he did.

So when I was asked by HarperCollins Children’s Books who I would like to see adapt Coraline, my scary children’s novel, into a graphic novel, I said “P. Craig Russell, please.” I knew it would look good, I knew the adaptation would be faithful and the art would be beautiful.

I wasn’t expecting how good either would be. Craig’s adaptation of Coraline is a two-hundred-page graphic novel, colored by Digital Chameleon, that’s gorgeous and haunting, andβ€”most importantly for meβ€”a real book in its own right.

How’s that for incentive?

Furthermore, a full length animated movie is in the works!

Even better–it’s a stopmotion film (and for Harryhausen junkies like Ana and I, this is SOLID GOLD). The charming Dakota Fanning will be voicing Coraline (heck yes!), and Teri Hatcher will be the voice of Coraline’s Mother and Other Mother (niiiiice–and quite fitting, in my opinion). The film is directed by the highly capable Henry Selick–director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (which has me pumping my fist up in the air like Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club)! Coraline will be available in 3-D, and is due out this November.

Can I get a “Hell YES”?!?!

And, here’s an official sneak for the film:

Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection – I LOVE this book. It makes me feel like a young, curious girl again, eager to explore and thwart evil. Highly recommended for everyone–no matter what your age or gender!

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  • Ana
    July 3, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Hell YES!!! I had no idea what this book was about. Tthis is the only one we are reviewing this week that I haven’t read yet. Which leads me to the question:

    Dude, why haven’t I read this before???? Should I get the book? or the Graphic Novel? both? *runs to Amazon*

  • Thea
    July 3, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Psh, like you even have to ask–naturally you must get BOTH! But read the book first πŸ™‚

  • Katie(babs)
    July 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    B&B, your posts this week have opened my mind to new reads. Me like graphic comics now. πŸ˜›

    Blossum has spoken.

  • Christine
    July 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Hell YES!!!
    I love this novel, too, Thea. I think I’m going to make Maria read it this summer. I’ve got quite the TBR pile I’m forcing on her! lol

    I didn’t know about the manga version and I completely forgot that Coraline was going to be made into a movie! Awesome!

  • little alys
    July 3, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    OMG! I was just reading about this!!! Must get! Must watch!!


    Great review. I love it!

  • M.
    July 3, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    ‘why haven’t i heard of this’ indeed. i’m thinking i should find the graphic novel and see whether i’d like to give it to my son as part of his summmer homework…

  • Carolyn Jean
    July 4, 2008 at 6:24 am

    Just the setup of this totally drew me in. I love it! Very weird and wonderful. Thanks for the review.

  • Thea
    July 4, 2008 at 9:17 am

    Blossum, I knew Bubbles and I would get you to come over to the dark side eventually! πŸ˜‰

    Christine oh hell yes! You should definitely force your daughter to add this one to the list :p I’m sure she’ll enjoy it too–plus, it’s shorter so less daunting πŸ™‚

    Alys hee, thanks!!! I am so stoked for the movie–I love the animation style, very Nightmare Before Christmas/James and the Giant Peach πŸ™‚

    M. oh definitely. This is a book that young kids will love because of the smart creepiness πŸ™‚ I’m planning on giving a copy to my baby sister as well (she’s 8).

    CJ, totally weird and wonderful. Coraline just rocks πŸ™‚

  • Daphne
    July 5, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Hells Yess!! I love, love, love this book. I read it a few years ago and it remains one of the most wonderfully creepy adventure books I’ve ever read. The beldam gets under my skin… total creeps. I loved it. I can’t wait for the movie.

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