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Coraline (novel)

A 2002 young adult fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean.

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Dark Fairy Tale for Children Starring Coraline, Not Caroline.

  • Jun 14, 2010

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"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." 

--G. K. Chesterton

Coraline is one of the most unique children's books I have read in a long time. It's a quick read but what it lacks in length it makes up with quirky characters and ideas. It's not as developed as I would have liked; after all, it is a children's book. However, it's perfect for the recommended age group of eight and up. Coraline takes the reader on a fantastic journey thanks to the creative musings of author Neil Gaiman and the elaborate illustrations by Dave McKean. 

The setting of the book is not unusual. There's a young girl named Coraline Jones who is utterly bored by her surroundings. She's ignored by her parents and often seeks adventures outside their flat to give herself something to do. Coraline's imagination and independence leads to a great discovery, what I deem "the Other Realm." This is when the setting truly gets interesting. I was fascinated by the concept of a parallel universe, especially since Gaiman introduces such a complex idea to children! Although these concepts aren't developed as they would be in an adult book, Gaiman provides enough suspense and action to hook the reader from the very beginning. The rest of the novel surrounds Coraline's adventures in the Other Realm as well as the friends and enemies she meets there. Some critics have compared this story to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass, but I disagree. The only similarity between the books is that the protagonists are young girls who travel to another world. What Alice discovers at the end is vastly different from the lessons Coraline learns. In fact, what makes Coraline stand out as an unique children's novel is the emphasis on dark fantasy, though both books have oddball supporting characters and humorous jokes. 

In Coraline, the young girl whose name is the title is obviously the star. She's a funny protagonist because she is so different from those around her; she's special. She can't stand her father's cooking recipes preferring frozen food over the fancy adult stuff. She has no children her age to play with, and her older neighbors that live in the same house can't get her name right: "It's Coraline. Not Caroline" (4). She has rather absent-minded parents who are too caught up in their own lives to make time for Coraline's games. The wacky supporting characters include Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (former actresses who own lots of dogs), a crazy old man with a big mustache (and his circus mice), and the large black cat. Incidentally enough, the black cat was my favorite character, not Coraline. Again, the inclusion of a cat hearkens the reader back to memories of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass. However, I found the Cheshire Cat too playful for my tastes. This black cat is a sarcastic whirlwind with a sense of humor and wit that only an adult can truly appreciate. Still, he is a force to be reckoned with and an appropriate sidekick for Coraline as she battles the villains in the Other Realm. As the book progresses, the characters come to life in ways only Gaiman could think up. 

With the help of unforgettable characters, Gaiman teaches young readers lessons about life. Coraline, already adventurous and independent, learns the meaning of courage, bravery, and selflessness as well as the importance of not trusting strangers, even in they resemble someone you love and trust. She fights for what is right and even comes face to face with the hardest life lesson: death. Neil Gaiman balances light and darkness (good and evil) and still manages to give kids what they desire and need at such a tender age without sacrificing the overall story-- a happy ending! 

Since I have never seen the animated film, I cannot comment on the visual adaption. However with all the illustrations by Dave McKean, it felt as if I was watching a movie while reading the book. The images are haunting and added to the fear factor of the tale. I began reading this book at night. After two chapters in, I quickly realized that I could no longer continue this routine because I was scared! It wasn't just the writing that scared me; it was the illustrations. In looking through them again, my favorite one is found in chapter six. It's a picture of the Other Mother (one of the villains) with a black beetle in her mouth. Talk about gross! 

Despite my own weak constitution, I could see myself reading this book to children even younger than eight. The story is captivating while the pictures are artistic and detailed. It's got enough creativity to excite without too many boring complications. 

Because it is written for a younger audience, adults might feel dissatisfied with the lack of development or the fact that the Other Realm and its inhabitants are never really explained. They simply exist. Instead of complaining about the unreality of it all, I recommend reading Coraline as if it's a dark fairy tale. The realism is not needed simply because the story itself is a timeless fantasy. This quality is best expressed in Gaiman's own dedication: I started this for Holly. I finished it for Maddy. 

No matter who is reading it or when, you are sure to find interesting and different adventures within the depths of these pages, such as an unending performance whose audience is comprised solely of dogs. Still, I suggest leaving lots of lights on as you read, or you might spook yourself or your child.

Dark Fairy Tale for Children Starring Coraline, not Caroline.

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March 25, 2011
There are other worlds than these. (See? All of our myths and tales tie together at some point)
March 25, 2011
I agree. :)
March 26, 2011
Thank ye
March 26, 2011
Welcome. :)
February 18, 2011
Wonderful review
February 22, 2011
Thanks, Brian! Glad you liked the review. I don't recommend you read this one, though. Probably too scary!
February 18, 2011
February 22, 2011
Thanks, dad!
February 16, 2011
Review was very refreshing to read.
February 22, 2011
This is a novel that I bet Megan would enjoy. She's not too old for it yet. Maybe even Finnely would like it. You should check it out from the library for them!
February 16, 2011
Fantastic review!
February 22, 2011
Thanks, glad you liked it!
February 09, 2011
Great job Adrianna! Get's my vote for Best Book Review!
February 09, 2011
Thanks so much, James! I really appreciate the vote and the read. :)
December 16, 2010
Great review, Adrianna! I agree with @Entwife- I loved the film and now, after reading your review I am going to add this to my TBR list! It sounds like the kind of book that I'd like on a rainy night....with all the lights on, of course ;p
December 20, 2010
Thanks so much for reading my review, Sam! I've got the film on my queue. I'm desperate to write some comparison pieces between the two. I've drafted two setting pieces about Coraline's house versus Coraline's other house, but I don't want to publish it on Lunch until I can view the film. It might change the way I view the book's setting. If you are interested, I can shoot you a message or profile comment when either piece is ready.

And please let me know what you think of it if/when you do read it! It's so much fun. I highly recommend reading it on a rainy and dark night (but with the lights on or you will either ruin your eyes or scare yourself! ;)
December 20, 2010
Definitely let me know! Also, the film is on HBO, if you have HBO- that way you don't have to wait ;p I would definitely like to read your setting piece too, I just saw the film again and now, I'm trying to think about the differences! Looking forward to the review and to reading the book, thanks :)
December 20, 2010
I wish! We have basic cable and even that we are thinking about cutting. We have it on the PS3, though, and will watch it soon (hopefully). I'll shoot you some profile comments when the reviews are ready to be read. :)
October 16, 2010
Wonderful write up! I enjoyed the film, but you've convinced me that I need to make time for the book too; sounds right up my alley. Well done! :o) wishing you laughter
October 17, 2010
Thanks, Quinn! It is a really quick read because it's such a short book. I'm working on two other reviews about the settings in Coraline. I'm hoping to get them posted by next week (fingers crossed). Life can get so busy, so I guess I'll have to see how it all goes. ;) Wishing you laughter as well!
July 03, 2010
Sorry I didn't get around to this sooner.  This is one of my favorite Neil Gaiman books actually.  Although it's not my most favorite (I have a soft spot for Good Omens, the one he wrote with Terry Prachett) but I really loved this one a great deal.  I also loved your review.  Very informative and thorough as always!
July 05, 2010
No problem, Sean! I'm just glad people are reading my reviews! I've had "Good Omens" on my TBR list for a while, but I'm refusing to read new books until I get more reviews up. I have quite a writing list waiting for me! LOL!
July 02, 2010
Good review. I liked the picture with the beetle hanging out of that mother's mouth, lol. While the book does sound kind of scary, it might be a good one for kids, I suppose. The movie sounds interesting also.
July 02, 2010
Yeah, I know! Totally creepy. I think this book depends on the child's intellectual interests and development. Some children won't enjoy dark fantasy, so they might want to stay away from this one. Others love it.
1 2 Next
More Coraline (novel) reviews
Quick Tip by . August 11, 2010
a totally twisted movie the animation and story were so freaking weird i fell in love with it automatically. i read the book after watching the movie and i liked it just as much.
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Click here to read the book review.       Click here to read the book quotes.      A rather quirky and unusual children's book. It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland purely because Coraline travels to another "world." It was darker than the children's books I read as a child, but appropriate for a younger audience, especially if they want to read a horror/fantasy genre.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Coraline is really creepy. Sad they made it for children.
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
haha i stole this book from my teacher when i was in 5th grade. because i was grounded and figured it would give me something to do. i finished it in less than 3 hours, and immediately made my younger sister read it too. the button eyes, and dark version of reality that coraline goes into every night is just amazing. i think neil gaiman is my favorite visual author because he painted such a good picture in just this book.
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
this book is Weird! but kinda cool, in a creepy way
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
Charming dark children's novel.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
creepy. but good
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
Cute but creepy book.
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Very good!
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
Haunting. something I will remember for a long time.
About the reviewer
Adrianna Simone ()
Ranked #5
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About this book


Coraline is a fantasy/horror novella by British author Neil Gaiman, published in 2002 by Bloomsbury and Harper Collins. It was awarded the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. It has been compared to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland because of its surrealism and plot based on an alternate-reality, and has been adapted into a 2009 stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick.
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ISBN-10: 0380977788
ISBN-13: 9780380977789
Author: Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
Genre: Children's Literature, Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Light Horror, Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins, Bloomsbury Books
Date Published: 2002
ISBN: 0380977788
Format: Hardcover (first edition)
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