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“Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house…”

When young Coraline Jones finds a mysterious passageway in her family’s home, she crawls into a world exactly like her own – only better. Here, nobody says her name wrong (“It’s Coraline, not Caroline”), the toys are marvelous, her bedroom is delightfully pink and green, and the food is actually edible (unlike her father’s “recipes”).

But of course, there’s a catch.

Her parents in this alternate world look exactly like her real parents, but with shiny black button eyes and ghastly paper-white skin and a fervent desire to keep Coraline on their side of the door. Coraline can have everything she’s ever wanted – so long as she’s willing to allow her own eyes to be replaced with buttons.

Did I mention this couple is just a tad bit creepy?

Clearly, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline isn’t your typical Disneyfied fairy tale. It’s dark, whimsical, sinister, smart, and funny – frequently all at once. You will recall it was Lewis who once said that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” If this is true (as I believe it is), then Coraline is a very good children’s story indeed.

I haven’t read any of his other novels, but judging from this one, Gaiman is a firm believer in the “short and sweet” method of writing. His style is spare yet colorful, fraught with crisp dialogue and fantastically bizarre images that flicker out of the gloom like candles in a haunted house. It is precisely this restraint that keeps the story from becoming overly dreary or morbid, while still maintaining a keenly creepy edge.

Like all the best fairy tales, this one isn’t without a moral or two tucked slyly up its sleeve. Be careful what you wish for is one; be thankful for what you have, however imperfect it may be is another.

The world on the other side of the door looks like a lot more fun than the one on this side; but like a child’s version of the Matrix, its “betterness” is merely illusory. When the curtain is pulled back, and the masks come off, we see monsters have been running the show all along.

Coraline sighed. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she said. “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?”

It seems getting everything you want can be an exceedingly ugly business after all. Who’d’ve thought?

– Corey P.


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Published on 8 June, 2013. Last updated on

4 Comments

  1. Eustacia Tan

    I loved Coraline, although the book was, in all honesty, almost too scary for me. I still don’t understand why this is classified as a kids book….

    ^_^

    • Corey P.

      Honestly, I didn’t find it all that frightening – no worse, at least, than some of the stuff in Lewis’ Narnia books. 🙂 The movie, however, is a different thing altogether. It’s an excellent adaption (for the most part), but I would never recommend it for family-viewing.

  2. Kathy

    Our family had an interesting reaction to the audiobook of this (read by the author, and it’s excellent). My teenage son and I were way beyond our comfort level with the creepiness of it, while my then 6-yo daughter couldn’t wait to listen to the next part to see what Coraline would do next. It does seem to affect adults and young adults on a more primal level, and younger kids accept it simply as a story.

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Into the Book was born out of a crazy idea of a blog that'd provide book reviews for teens. There aren't very many book review websites out there exposing awesome, high-quality Christian literature, and there are even fewer that target teenagers. Since 2009, we've been providing high-quality book reviews to the world through our blog. Into the Book has grown around reviews since then, but it remains our oldest project.

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