By all accounts, Neil Gaiman’s children’s book Coraline is a strange and creepy piece of fiction. It features another set of parents for its protagonist, Coraline Jones, who live through the hallway behind the door that goes nowhere. Copies of her next door neighbors, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, perform nightly for an audience of talking dogs. And everyone she meets while in this other world has black buttons sewn into their eyes. As Coraline explores this other space, she has to use her wits and cunning to out-smart her other mother and rescue her real parents before black buttons are sewn into her eyes.
But Coraline is written as a strong female character who is brave for taking on her other mother, and braver still for doing it while fully understanding the consequences should she lose. This braveness permeates the whole of the novel, and cements Coraline’s story in reality – both hers within the narrative and our own outside the confines of the book as a piece of fiction. While her story remains questionable to Coraline’s parents (and thus the reader as omniscient observer), Coraline retains literal scars and scabs from her physical journey. Plus those pesky figurative scars from emotional growth, which Gaiman writes with realism and flair.
Although the novel can (and should) be read by all ages, its definitely meant for young people. The book is short, with pictures for every chapter, and narration through Coraline’s perspective. As an adult, however, one can appreciate the illustrations as an extension of the already visual story (did I mention the black buttons as eyes??), which Gaiman cleverly exploits with his lush language and way of storytelling. Maybe its his background in graphic novels or simply because he’s so good at making his readers use their imagination while reading. Either way, Coraline is a novel everyone who loves reading should explore – as young people the same age as Coraline or as not-young people who remember being the same age as Coraline. Or maybe even as parents who want to read a book along with their own children.