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Coraline Hardcover – Illustrated, July 2, 2002
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.
What's on the other side of the door? A distorted-mirror world, containing presumably everything Coraline has ever dreamed of... people who pronounce her name correctly (not "Caroline"), delicious meals (not like her father's overblown "recipes"), an unusually pink and green bedroom (not like her dull one), and plenty of horrible (very un-boring) marvels, like a man made out of live rats. The creepiest part, however, is her mirrored parents, her "other mother" and her "other father"--people who look just like her own parents, but with big, shiny, black button eyes, paper-white skin... and a keen desire to keep her on their side of the door. To make creepy creepier, Coraline has been illustrated masterfully in scritchy, terrifying ink drawings by British mixed-media artist and Sandman cover illustrator Dave McKean. This delightful, funny, haunting, scary as heck, fairy-tale novel is about as fine as they come. Highly recommended. (Ages 11 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
British novelist Gaiman (American Gods; Stardust) and his long-time accomplice McKean (collaborators on a number of Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels as well as The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish) spin an electrifyingly creepy tale likely to haunt young readers for many moons. After Coraline and her parents move into an old house, Coraline asks her mother about a mysterious locked door. Her mother unlocks it to reveal that it leads nowhere: "When they turned the house into flats, they simply bricked it up," her mother explains. But something about the door attracts the girl, and when she later unlocks it herself, the bricks have disappeared. Through the door, she travels a dark corridor (which smells "like something very old and very slow") into a world that eerily mimics her own, but with sinister differences. "I'm your other mother," announces a woman who looks like Coraline's mother, except "her eyes were big black buttons." Coraline eventually makes it back to her real home only to find that her parents are missing--they're trapped in the shadowy other world, of course, and it's up to their scrappy daughter to save them. Gaiman twines his taut tale with a menacing tone and crisp prose fraught with memorable imagery ("Her other mother's hand scuttled off Coraline's shoulder like a frightened spider"), yet keeps the narrative just this side of terrifying. The imagery adds layers of psychological complexity (the button eyes of the characters in the other world vs. the heroine's increasing ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not; elements of Coraline's dreams that inform her waking decisions). McKean's scratchy, angular drawings, reminiscent of Victorian etchings, add an ominous edge that helps ensure this book will be a real bedtime-buster. Ages 8-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Coraline was the perfect heroine, and all of her reactions and actions were just what you'd expect from a precocious child. It was well established in the beginning that she was used to moving about on her own, with little supervision, so her ability to deal with the pretty scary things that happened to her was believable. That the author pulled character traits and settings from his own life made everything feel that much more real and natural in the storyline. There's no better way to write a "scary" story for young readers than this mixture of intense dread and optimistic hope.
Which brings to mind a problem I've been having lately with a lot of the books supposedly adored by critics. These books exhibit flaws critics normally criticize, and yet with books like CORALINE they turn a blind eye.
NOTE: What follows has some spoilers, so if you haven't read it, skip the rest.
Case in point: CORALINE has a double ending. Our heroine escapes from the "other house" and the story's over right? Wrong. She has to go back. Other problems? The setup takes too long and is boring. Coraline and all of the characters are thinly drawn and poorly defined. The only thing that stood out about Coraline was that she was brave. And how do I know that? Because she kept telling me so. Yes, she exhibited some bravery throughout the story, but critics traditionally hate telling and not showing, and there was a lot of telling in CORALINE. Also it is an incredibly violent and disturbing story, especially one designed for children. Sewing buttons over children's eyes? Come on, critics, where's your righteous anger? And why hasn't even one critic criticized the dialog? At best it's stilted and unrealistic. At worst it's just poorly written.
On the plus side--and my reason for giving it three stars and not less--Mr. Gaiman's writing can be beautiful, albeit overly simplistic in the case of CORALINE. Simplistic writing is something critics generally champion in children's literature, and CORALINE certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard, but having spent my career working with children in the middle-grade age range, I've learned they don't like childish writing and prefer not to be spoken down to.
Anyway, there you have it--my opinion, and it's worth every penny you paid for it. And for those who adore CORALINE, my apologies. I wish I had liked it more. But for me, there are much better books out there.
There are only minor differences between this graphic novel and the original novel, with some parts of the story being left out, possibly to make space. The story was quite enjoyable, but a little short and could be read in less than a few minutes - but I think it's best to give your eyes a few moments to take in all the details of the beautiful artwork! Much time and effort seems to have been put into sketches and detail, and it is quite easy to miss even the most obvious details if you attempt to take the book in all at once.
If you're the kind of person that prefers colors to blank pages, then this book is definitely for you!
Pro Tip: try playing the movie soundtrack as you read! It becomes quite endearing. :)