A children’s book Coraline (by Neil Gaiman) is not. Creepy, yes. Scary, definitely. But fit for children? Only if that child is super desensitized. Needless to say, it was great for my Halloween Countdown.
Coraline and her parents moved into a big house divided into separate apartments. As an only child, she gets bored and feels like her parents are neither present nor interested in her life. Luckily for her, a magic doorway leads her to people who seem to care about her. So what if they live in the Other world with button eyes? Surely that’s the price you pay for unlimited attention and love. Or maybe the price is much higher than she thought.
First of all, button eyes? Shudder. So, so creepy. If I was Coraline, that alone would have sent me scurrying home.
Maybe the reason this is considered a children’s book is the point of view from a character who is a child. It certainly gives you a fresh perspective of a child’s world. Coraline views her mother’s insistence on dressing in warm clothes a nuisance when really it’s an expression of her love. You can see how she jumps to erroneous conclusions and goes looking for love in all the wrong places. But in her defense, she sticks up for her parents—despite possible death (and worse)—when she sees the error of her ways.
The cat is another surprising character. He’s helpful, a valuable ally when Coraline finds herself facing the ultimate challenge. Usually you think about dogs being allies and cats not caring, but this book casts felines in a rosier light.
The Other Mother is super-creepy. Like I said, button eyes. Shudder. But she’s interesting. We know a little about her, but only hints. We don’t know where she came from or what ultimately happened to her. She’s really the perfect villain: accommodating and loving one minute and then monstrous the next. You don’t expect that universal mothering instinct to go bad.
Coraline was rather short (another piece of proof that it was intended for younger audiences). I appreciated that the suspense wasn’t drawn out over several hundred pages. It would’ve been too torturous. However, it wasn’t flat or one-dimensional. It was layered. There was the difficulty in parenting layer, the loneliness of children layer, the fear of never being understood layer, the joy in yearning for something layer, the courage of love layer…there were lots of themes. I think it boils down to the fact that children can be as brave and courageous and loving as adults, adults just don’t know how to see it.
There are some absolutely lovely quotes in this story, like this gem:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
There’s truth as well:
“I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then?”
This is why it can’t be Christmas everyday. And there are some thoughts to really chew on:
“Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
This book is about a girl and a monster and the courage and power to defeat it. It’s a book for everyone because it speaks in the simplest, most beautiful terms, of uncertainty, love, and sacrifice. If you want a spooky thrill, read it for that; if you want something more, this book has that as well.