Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fiction, Youth
Length: 162 pages

Reviewed by: Willow Locksley

“The air was alive with yellow wasps. We must have stepped on a wasps’ nest in a rotten branch as we walked. And while I was running up the hill, my dad stayed and got stung, to give me time to run away. His glasses had fallen off when he ran.

And he said that wasn’t brave of him… because he wasn’t scared: it was the only thing he could do. But going back again to get his glasses, when he knew the wasps were there, when he was really scared. That was brave.”

Coraline is a born explorer. It doesn’t take her long to discover a door that opens onto a brick wall in her new house. She returns to it one night and finds a dark hallway where the wall used to be. On the other side of this hallway she finds the not-quite-right twin of her own house and disturbingly elongated versions of her parents with black buttons sewn over their eyes. They offer her all the attention and goodies that her real parents withhold, but it comes at a price: she must have black buttons sewn over her eyes too. Wisely, Coraline declines. Shortly thereafter, her real parents disappear. With the help of a sarcastic cat, a stone with a hole through it, and her brave explorer instincts, Coraline sets out to find and save her parents… beginning with the hallway behind the door.

Neil Gaiman is a huge name in today’s fantasy genre. His bibliography includes books for children and adults, graphic novels, television and film scripts, and numerous nods to his work in popular culture. He even finds time to maintain an active and engaging blog. As his fame suggests, he knows how to knit words together in a captivating way.

Religion doesn’t make much of an appearance in Coraline. There may be something in the subtext about the stone Coraline carries as protection (ancient cultures used stones with holes through them as currency, or believed they had healing properties). The stone is given to her by her neighbors, two old ladies, after they read danger in her tea leaves (this is a form of fortune-telling). Coraline gains a new appreciation for her real parents while battling to save them. The main antagonist, Coraline’s “other mother”, is an undefined, ancient force of evil with a history of luring children to herself. Coraline meets the childrens’ ghosts and learns that loving them and consuming them are one and the same to the “other mother”.

In case my description so far hasn’t made it clear: this book is creepy. An alternate, tainted reality. Dark places and empty spaces. Parents that aren’t quite your parents, who literally hunger for your love. Rats, beetles, spidery hands, ghosts and souls trapped in toys. Story-wise, Gaiman expertly melds his originality with the fearful imaginings common to every childhood nightmare. Does this mean I would read Coraline to a child? Not likely.

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