This year, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline won the Hugo for Best Novella and the Locus for Best Young Adult Novel. Having already written novels, stories, screenplays, poems, and comic books, he decided to tackle a children’s novel. It’s a very creepy children’s novel– and it’s very, very good.
Author: Neil Gaiman
with illustrations by David McKean.
Original Publication Date: July 2, 2002
Cover Price (hardcover): $11.19 U.S./$20.39 Canadian
(paperback): $5.99 U.S./$8.99 Canadian
A little girl, frustrated with her mundane existence, walks through a mysterious door and into an alternate version of her house, where things are more than slightly askew. Her grotesque “other” mother who lives there has buttons for eyes, and wants to sew similar ones onto Coraline and keep the child there forever. And that’s just the start; this mysterious woman has far more monstrous secrets. She has kidnapped Coraline’s parents, and her closet contains the souls of other lost children who have fallen into her spidery clutches.
With the help of a talking cat, Coraline must outwit one of the most diabolical villains in the history of children’s literature.
I like the fact that Gaiman doesn’t soften the book too much, despite his audience. Coraline faces a seductively deceptive and ultimately very nasty adversary. Most Disney villains would recoil from this creature in horror. A particularly clever young girl, however, proves more than her equal. This fact will obviously appeal to children.
The protagonist of many a children’s book has a whimsical sidekick to help out. Gaiman has given Coraline a talking cat who retains the essential nature of the animal. Tiny things get pounced upon; a rat gets decapitated. And when the going gets tough, kitty starts eyeing the exits.
These aren’t so much criticisms as warnings to diverse audiences. This is a children’s book. The mysteries have to be solvable by young readers, and consequently the clues will seem a trifle obvious to older ones.
Not every parent will find this suitable for their wee ones. Gaiman wrote Coraline for his children; doubtless they loved it. Doubtless other, older children will, too. But, for a young person’s book, Coraline is surprisingly macabre and frightening.
Originality: 5/6 The notion of passing through a common object– a looking-glass, say, or a wardrobe– has been used many times before. What we find on the other side here is, however, highly inventive.
Story: 6/6 While I don’t share Diana Wynne Jones’ opinion that this book will replace Alice in Wonderland, Coraline ranks among the best children’s books I’ve read. It recalls Roald Dahl– and in this case, I consider Gaiman the superior writer.
Characterization: 5/6 Gaiman has created a heroine as memorable as Alice and Dorothy, and she’s more resourceful.
Imagery: 6/6 Never mind the children; the fate of the villain’s creations and the plottings of her severed hand will haunt any number of adult readers.
Emotional Response: 5/6.
Overall Score: 6/6.
In total, Coraline receives 39/42
Additional Notes and Cheap Shots:
Most readers will recognize the kind of evil which Coraline encounters. Obviously, the real world contains people who, say, promise children Neverland and then take what is most precious to them.