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.
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
Barnes and Noble
In Neil Gaiman’s bestselling adult fantasies, telling the difference between reality and illusion can sometimes mean your soul. With Coraline, the author of American Gods develops this favorite theme for a younger audience, taking us through a deliciously frightening door to an “other,” harrowing world.
Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.
Gaiman has delivered a wonderfully chilling novel, subtle yet intense on many levels. The line between pleasant and horrible is often blurred until what’s what becomes suddenly clear, and like Coraline, we resist leaving this strange world until we’re hooked. Unnerving drawings also cast a dark shadow over the book’s eerie atmosphere, which is only heightened by simple, hair-raising text. Already compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and suited for readers of all ages, Coraline is otherworldly storytelling at its best. (Matt Warner)