Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Extraordinary Child:Coraline by Neil Gaiman

coraline It took me a while, but I figured out why my feelings about this book are bittersweet.

My mother was a huge fan of stop-motion animation, but especially The Nightmare Before Christmas. She collected the memorabilia back when you had to import it from Japan--Hot Topic had just jumped on the Tim Burton bandwagon in '03. Now, my family has a slightly morbid tradition of bribing mourning children, and the day my mom died my dad and brother and I visited the comic shop my mother imported all her Jack Skellingtons. I picked out Coraline.

Now, I could make all sorts of cheesy connections between that and the end of my childhood, but anyone who's seen me run around Tah-Poozie knows that my inner child is alive and well and probably fingerpainting the walls I'm supposed to tear down.

Anyway. Book.

Coraline is a quintessential children's novel: your perfectly average heroine finds herself in extraordinary circumstances when her parents move into a crumbling old building which is so much more than it seems. What kid doesn't dream of finding a portal to another world through a tiny doorway, one where your parents love you and you have toys and clothes and wonders--but at a price? Of having strange neighbors who "trod the boards" in their youth, or tutor a secret mouse circus in the attic, who are your unknowing allies? Of--even though it frightens them--hearing strange noises and seeing odd shadows dance about your room? Of triumph over evil with the knowledge that yes, there is magic in the world, and some is scary and dark but some is very, very good?

Gaiman's writing style is easy, charming, and full of details that flesh out Coraline's world in just a few well-chosen phrases, such as in this description of her bedroom behind the secret door:

There were all sorts of remarkable things in there she'd never seen before: windup angels that fluttered around the bedroom like startled sparrows; books with pictures that writhed and crawled and shimmered; little dinosaur skulls that chattered their teeth as she passed. A whole toy box filled with wonderful toys.

This is more like it, thought Coraline. She looked out of the window. Outside, the view was the same one she saw from her own bedroom: trees, fields, and beyond the horizon, distant purple hills.

Something black scurried across the floor and vanished under the bed. Coraline got down on her knees and looked under the bed. Fifty little eyes started back at her.

"Hello," said Coraline, "are you the rats?

I loved how Coraline was resourceful and brave in a perfectly childlike manner. She comes up with strange games to entertain herself, she accepts her guide (a vain but wise cat) with bemusement, and defeats the villain of the piece with her own best talent--exploring. As creepy and strange as the Other World may be, the reader is reassured by Coraline's bravery--even though she doubts it, herself.

Coraline is an odd, dreamy novel that keeps good company with Alice in Wonderland and The Thief of Always. It's full of bits that kids love (weird people, odd gifts, an atmospheric setting in the English countryside, a kid subduing the bad guy all by herself) and humor sophisticated enough for the adults who gift them with it. Coraline is destined to be a classic.

*Mouse Circus is Neil Gaiman's kid fiction home on the web

*And you can catch up with him on his Journal--he's posting lots of Coraline-related ephemera.

*I can't wait for the movie! The Coraline team has been sending out mystery boxes of bits from the movie to bloggers they like--awesome!


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