Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman


Title: Coraline

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Dave McKean

Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy/Horror

Number of Pages: 163

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes



Even though I intended to read it ‘eventually,’ this book wasn’t huge on my priority list for a long time. I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, but I had thought the movie adaptation was just okay and for some reason I thought this would be very similar. Wow, this novel exceeded my expectations in every way possible. I couldn’t put it down, and every unsettling development got under my skin and took on a feeling of distorted reality. It’s coming-of-age story channeled through the literary equivalent of a childhood nightmare, and it has what it takes to freak out adults who might be expecting something tamer and are not even members of it’s target audience.


Coraline is a irritable little girl who moves with her parents to an old house with no one for company than her really weird elderly neighbors. Coraline’s parents take care of her basic needs but they’re often really busy and she feels lonely and unnoticed. She starts exploring the house and one day she finds a crawlspace that takes her to an alternate version of the same old house, but with updated versions of her parents who are less than human and are very interested in her. The creepiest part is that they both have black buttons where their eyes should be and the ‘other mother’ is determined that Coraline stay with her. Unsurprisingly, refusal is out of the question; Coraline must use every resource she has to escape being trapped in the mirror realm.


I’m pretty sure all the coolest scenes in this novel were skimmed over and just plain ignored in the film. Coraline must go through a series of tasks in order to get home and each task is a terrifying attempt to break her. In the movie Coraline came of as a mean-spirited brat but in this book she’s pretty much a well-meaning but curious adolescent that’s frustrated with her life.


Even the characters in Coraline’s ‘normal’ world are largely bizarre and exaggerated, the heroine herself is very grounded in the struggles of bright children who often go unnoticed and spend a lot of time by themselves. Coraline knows that even though her parents are somewhat self-absorbed they love her and she is put in a role reversal situation where she has to save their lives. She learns about monsters and true evil but she also learns that even though she small she’s not powerless. I recommend this book to adults and children have a high threshold for creepy (though not graphically violent) stories.

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