This summer, Harry Potter has finally left the #1 spot on kids' reading lists, and new heroes are emerging to whom young readers can really relate. One such exciting character is Coraline, the adventurous heroine of Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. This beautifully written, dark fairy tale finally acknowledges the underestimated and forgotten maturity of most young people; Gaiman isn't afraid to write a scary fantasy for children looking for more than just Disney-esque dragons and grounds-keeping giants.
Coraline (NOT "Caroline," as she will tell you adamantly) has just moved into a flat in an old house. Her upstairs and downstairs neighbors are kind and eccentric older people who can't get her name right, but encourage her curiosity and explorer's instincts. One rainy afternoon, wandering around bored out of her mind (as young explorers are wont to do on rainy afternoons), Coraline opens a locked door in her living room and finds her way into the mysterious "vacant" fourth flat in the house. Surprisingly, the apartment is far from empty, and Coraline comes face to face with two creatures who claim to be her "other" parents. In fact, there appears to be an entire magical "other" world through the door; there are amazing toys to play with and neighbors who never mess up her name.
Soon, however, Coraline realizes that this world is as deadly as it is enchanting. The "other mother" wants to keep Coraline there forever, and her intentions are hardly loving or parental. Coraline meets the ghosts of several other children who had been kidnapped hundreds of years ago, and she realizes that her both her body and spirit are in danger. She has to use all her intelligence and exploratory prowess in order to defeat the horrible "other mother."
Coraline's story is truly frightening, and Gaiman goes to great lengths to forge an "other" world where every aspect of our lives is perverted and twisted into the macabre. Originally a comic-book writer, he uses lyrical comparisons that challenge the simple images of traditional children's books'. Kids will enjoy the chills that run down their spines as they read this story and will be grateful that there is finally an author that refuses to patronize a young audience hungry for an absorbing horror tale.
Reviewed by Lowell Putnam on May 1, 2004