Coraline by Neil Gaiman

CoralineThis review is going to be short not only because this is a short book, but because I just don’t have a lot to say about it. It was okay. It was fine. I think kids and young adolescents would enjoy it, but it doesn’t have much I’m going to remember after I read two or three books after this. It’s not like Wait Till Helen Comes, geared toward the same audience, in which I was left thinking about the book long after reading it.

Having said that, the book, or novela, kept my attention and was entertaining enough to keep reading it to the end. It has some good things going for it, and not much I can pinpoint as bad. Let’s break it down.

Plot Synopsis

Coraline Jones is a young girl bored at home during her Summer break from school. Her family has moved into a house broken up into apartments that they share with eccentric neighbors. The apartment next to hers is empty, and is connected by a door that opens to a brick wall. She opens the door one day and finds the brick wall gone, and Other versions of her parents and her neighbors await her on the other side. They look and sound just like the people in her life, but they have slight differences and big, black buttons where their eyes should be and they look hungry. The Others promise to love and entertain Coraline if she will stay with them forever.

Coraline’s parents go missing, and she enters the Other world to find and save them.

Review

There were some nuggets of greatness in this book: little things that set it apart that if Gaiman would have gone farther with would have really made this book something special. I couldn’t pinpoint anything wrong, really; I mainly just had a desire for Gaiman to have gone farther.

Strengths

1. Mood and Images – I think this would be a great book to teach students about mood. The atmosphere, though trite, is fantastic. I love the mist Coraline walks through, walking straight from the house just to come upon the same house. I love the buttons for eyes that give characters a darkness and hollowness, because eyes light up a person. I love the shadows throughout the book. I also love the gray sweater Coraline wears… The mood is dark and creepy, and appropriately so.

I love how seamlessly the world changes as Coraline walks through the door and through the passageway. I appreciated little things like the cat suddenly talking (He only talks in the Other world) and the distance feeling greater than it was before. I like how closely Gaiman links love with hunger when Coraline is looking at her Other mother.

I LOVE the chilling songs of the rats. The songs are where they culminate, and I wish we would have gotten more of them.

This other world creeped me out a few times, and creepy is what Gaiman was going for. Job well done.

2. Characters – I love most of the characters in the book. Coraline’s parents seem one-dimensional, but the neighbors, the cat, and the Other characters are great.

Miss Forcible and Miss Fink are delightful both in the real world and in the Other world. They were actresses at a previous time, and are quirky, weird, old ladies who are in tune with the house and the danger surrounding Coraline. They tell Coraline she is in danger, and they give her a rock with a hole in it to protect herself, but they can’t tell Coraline what she’s in danger from, and they don’t tell her how to use the rock. In the Other world, they unzip their bodies and climb out as young women during a performance. As performers, their show goes on ad infinitum in the Other world.

Mr. Bobo is an interesting character. He has mice who he is training to perform music. The mice tell him things about Coraline that tease the plot. We don’t get to see much of him, and I wish he appeared more in the book.

I love how Miss Forcible, Miss Fink, and Mr. Bobo call Coraline “Caroline,” even after being corrected by Coraline again and again. They bring some welcome humor to this dark book.

The cat, too, is funny. I love his sarcasm. He seems above Coraline and the Others. He is very much a cat.

Weaknesses

1. Writing – The writing is overly simplistic. I get that this book is geared toward children, but I’ve seen books geared toward the same audience that didn’t feel as simple. A third or fourth grader could easily read this book, but the dark elements make it more appropriate for middle schoolers. The problem there is the book won’t challenge them. Coraline kind of sits in an unhappy middle ground.

It gets repetitive in moments as well, rehashing something previously said. One jarring example is when Gaiman lets the reader know for a second time that the drawing room was not used by Coraline’s family, and was just for her grandmother’s furniture. Reading it again, I thought, “You just told me this last chapter…”

What bugs me the most is Coraline has some nuggets of greatness in writing. Here are some of my favorite clippings:

“It’s big enough for her,” said that cat. “Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.”

It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and it is astonishing how fragile that can be.

The sky had never seemed so sky, the world have never seemed so world.

Unfortunately, these moments seem disjointed from the rest of the book. They kind of teased what Coraline could have been. Gaiman is a great writer.

2, Originality (Moments) – I hesitate to add originality to the list because Coraline has interesting, unique images I discussed above. However, the plot had the potential to go to interesting places and just didn’t. The part of the book where Coraline was looking for the marbles with souls of the children was creepy, but became a letdown because Coraline was able to secure the marbles easily. The Other Miss Fink and Miss Forcible were cacooned and couldn’t fight her, and the Other Mr. Bobo upstairs melted down to rats who ran for the door. I did like the cat stepping in to secure one of the marbles from a rat that escaped, but Coraline didn’t seem to be in danger like she had before. The lack of danger took away from the creepiness of the scene. The part where the Other Father was chasing Coraline in the cellar of the empty apartment was both creepy and dangerous. I would have liked to have had more of that in the other scenes.

I would have liked the rats to have done more as well. They sang a creepy song a few times in the book about rising and watching Coraline fall, but just ran away in their “big scene.” They were potential wasted, a letdown.

I love the idea of the Other Miss Fink and Miss Forcible’s stage show that never ends, but when they call for a volunteer and Coraline has to go on stage, it sinks it. Throwing a knife at a balloon above Coraline’s head is not dangerous, scary, or creepy. It’s trite. For such a unique scene, I wish Gaiman would have gone for something else.

Finally, the cat who offers advice but isn’t Coraline’s friend, while an interesting character, has been done. The creepy images and mood already had me thinking about Alice in Wonderland, and the cat took me there. While the cat, like the other things I mentioned here, was not necessarily bad, I wish Gaiman would have done more with it, to make it unique and his own.

Final Thoughts

As I said a couple times throughout this review, Coraline isn’t bad; it’s just not memorable. Three buttons out of five.

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