Saturday, February 9, 2008

Coraline

Gaiman, Neil. 2002. Coraline. Harper Collins.


I read Coraline yesterday while waiting for my daughters to finish piano lessons. Written in 2002, it was a Garden State Teen Book Award winner in 2005, and remains popular. Now I know why. You can't put it down. It's eerie and unsettling, but stops short of horrific.

When Coraline complains of rainy day boredom, her father suggests that she explore their new flat. "Count all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot water tank. And leave me alone to work." Among her other discoveries, Coraline finds thirteen doors that open and shut; one that does not.

In the first chapter, the reader has already met all the characters - at least the ones residing on this side of the drawing room door. There's Coraline, her mother and father, the cat who knows life on both sides of the door, the spinsters, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible who were once famous actresses, and the crazy old man upstairs. "'One day, little Caroline, when they are all ready, everyone in the whole world will see the wonders of my mouse circus. You ask me why you cannot see it now. Is that what you asked me?' 'No,' said Coraline quietly, 'I asked you not to call me Caroline. It's Coraline.' "

The narrator's matter-of-fact delivery suits Coraline's no-nonsense personality. She is the perfect level-headed foil for the creepy denizens residing behind the drawing room door. She is brave in the same manner that her father once showed her. "When you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave," explains Coraline, not when you act with courage because it's the only thing you can do.

It is Coraline's bravery in facing the eerie, button-eyed ghosts of the other world, that keeps the reader from becoming completely frightened. With a clear sense of purpose, to rescue her parents, Coraline passes into the dark world and keeps her wits about her as she tries to puzzle out the riddle of this sinister, mirror-image of her world.

There is a background message of "there's no place like home," but the true message of this book lies in the foreword, a simple quote of G.K. Chesterton.

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

Coraline is a heroine that will stay with you.

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