Coraline Jones and her parents have just moved into a house so big they share it with an old man who trains mice upstairs and an aging former actresses in the basement. An avid explorer, Coraline investigates the large garden and grounds around her new home until a heavy rain forces her to confront every active child's nightmare—an entire day stuck inside with nothing to do. So she turns to exploring the inside of the house, and in a corner of the seldom-used drawing room, finds something puzzling—a locked wooden door that reveals only a brick wall when her mother opens it with a huge rusty key.
One day when her parents are away, Coraline opens the door again and finds that the bricks have vanished, revealing a dark corridor that leads to an almost exact copy of her own house, complete with another mother and father, who have pale white skin and shiny black button eyes. They feed her delicious food and let her play in a room with toys that move on their own. They seem completely devoted to her happiness.
This new world is certainly more interesting than the one Coraline left behind, but the longer she stays the less wonderful and more frightening it becomes. Soon, her other parents want to replace her eyes with shiny black buttons like theirs in order to keep her with them "for ever and always," and Coraline decides to flee to the comfort of her real parents. When she returns through the door, however, she finds that they have disappeared. It soon becomes clear that her other mother has captured her real parents in an attempt to lure Coraline back. Despite her growing fear, she must return and find a way to save them—and escape her other mother's vengeful anger.
In Coraline, Neil Gaiman creates a world that is both familiar and frightening, and his long-time collaborator Dave McKean's wonderfully disturbing illustrations give the story a surreal, haunting atmosphere.
Gaiman has said that of all his books, Coraline "took the longest to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of." And for good reason. His first novel for younger readers is truly unnerving, completely original and well worth a look.
BookPage intern Emily Morelli is a student at the University of North Carolina. Copyright 2002 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Spring
Coraline passes through a door in the drawing room of her new home to a very similar house with an ""other mother"" and an ""other father."" What started out as a world set slightly askew turns nightmarish as Coraline joins the creepy other mother in a game of hide-and-seek for her real parents--winner take all. The danger and the heroine are convincing; the whirlwind denouement will leave readers bemused but elated and slightly breathless. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #6
Out of sorts in her new home, Coraline finds a bricked-up door in the drawing room and, when her mother is out for the afternoon, discovers the bricks have gone and she can pass through to a very similar house with an "other mother" and an "other father." These two creepy specimens (with paper-white skin and black button eyes) want her to stay and be their little girl. Back in her own home, Coraline waits in vain for her parents to return, until at last she catches sight of a mirror image of them and determines she must head back into the alternate house to try to rescue them. What started out as a world set slightly askew turns nightmarish as Coraline joins the other mother in a game of hide-and-seek for her parents-winner take all. Images (white grub-like creatures in cobwebs; a toy box full of wind-up angels and tiny chatter-mouthed dinosaur skulls; the ubiquitous shiny black button eyes pictured in McKean's occasional dark and unsettling sketches as actual buttons) fly at the reader thick and fast, fully evoking the irrational yet unperturbing world of dreams, creating an avant-garde cinematic sweep of charged and often horrific flotsam from the subconscious. One wishes for a little more backstory to add depth and unity to the disparate images and a little more structure around the identity of the other mother (it turns out she resembles a kind of trap-door spider for souls, although exactly what she is or why she set up shop in Coraline's drawing room is left unstated). Still, the danger is convincingly dangerous, the heroine is convincingly brave, and the whirlwind denouement (helped along by a friendly cat and a rather clever ploy on the part of Coraline) will leave readers bemused but elated and slightly breathless. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2002 June #2
A magnificently creepy fantasy pits a bright, bored little girl against a soul-eating horror that inhabits the reality right next door. Coraline's parents are loving, but really too busy to play with her, so she amuses herself by exploring her family's new flat. A drawing-room door that opens onto a brick wall becomes a natural magnet for the curious little girl, and she is only half-surprised when, one day, the door opens onto a hallway and Coraline finds herself in a skewed mirror of her own flat, complete with skewed, button-eyed versions of her own parents. This is Gaiman's (American Gods, 2001, etc.) first novel for children, and the author of the Sandman graphic novels here shows a sure sense of a child's fears-and the child's ability to overcome those fears. "I will be brave," thinks Coraline. "No, I am brave." When Coraline realizes that her other mother has not only stolen her real parents but has also stolen the souls of other children before her, she resolves to free her parents and to find the lost souls by matching her wits against the not-mother. The narrative hews closely to a child's-eye perspective: Coraline never really tries to understand what has happened or to fathom the nature of the other mother; she simply focuses on getting her parents back and thwarting the other mother for good. Her ability to accept and cope with the surreality of the other flat springs from the child's ability to accept, without question, the eccentricity and arbitrariness of her own-and every child's own-reality. As Coraline's quest picks up its pace, the parallel world she finds herself trapped in grows ever more monstrous, generating some deliciously eerie descriptive writing. Not for the faint-hearted-who are mostly adults anyway-but for stouthearted kids who love a brush with the sinister: Coraline is spot on. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Library Journal Express Reviews
When Coraline's family moves into a new home, she explores every corner and closet, looking for adventure. On the other side of a locked door is a new world and a new set of parents waiting to care for her.Figures with black button eyes, they want to make her their own little girl "for ever and always"; all they need is a needle and thread. On returning to her home, Coraline discovers that she must save the souls of her real family from her "other" parents. Why It Is Great: Neil Gaiman (American Gods) takes his dark mastery of horror down a peg for younger readers but keeps the tension alive. Why It Is for Us: Busy parents beware. What magic can your children get into while you have your back turned? [A new edition, illustrated by P. Craig Russell, has just been issued: ISBN 978-0-06-082543-0. $18.99.--Ed.] Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 June #4
British novelist Gaiman (American Gods; Stardust) and his long-time accomplice McKean (collaborators on a number of Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels as well as The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish) spin an electrifyingly creepy tale likely to haunt young readers for many moons. After Coraline and her parents move into an old house, Coraline asks her mother about a mysterious locked door. Her mother unlocks it to reveal that it leads nowhere: "When they turned the house into flats, they simply bricked it up," her mother explains. But something about the door attracts the girl, and when she later unlocks it herself, the bricks have disappeared. Through the door, she travels a dark corridor (which smells "like something very old and very slow") into a world that eerily mimics her own, but with sinister differences. "I'm your other mother," announces a woman who looks like Coraline's mother, except "her eyes were big black buttons." Coraline eventually makes it back to her real home only to find that her parents are missing they're trapped in the shadowy other world, of course, and it's up to their scrappy daughter to save them. Gaiman twines his taut tale with a menacing tone and crisp prose fraught with memorable imagery ("Her other mother's hand scuttled off Coraline's shoulder like a frightened spider"), yet keeps the narrative just this side of terrifying. The imagery adds layers of psychological complexity (the button eyes of the characters in the other world vs. the heroine's increasing ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not; elements of Coraline's dreams that inform her waking decisions). McKean's scratchy, angular drawings, reminiscent of Victorian etchings, add an ominous edge that helps ensure this book will be a real bedtime-buster. Ages 8-up. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2002 August
Gr 6-8-When Coraline and her parents move into a new house, she notices a mysterious, closed-off door. It originally went to another part of the house, which her family does not own. Some rather eccentric neighbors call her Caroline and seem not to understand her very well, yet they have information for her that will later prove vital. Bored, she investigates the door, which takes her into an alternate reality. There she meets her "other" mother and father. They are very nice to her, which pleases Coraline but also makes her a little suspicious. Her neighbors are in this other world, and they are the same, yet somehow different. When Coraline gets nervous and returns home, her parents are gone. With the help of a talking cat, she figures out that they are being held prisoner by her other parents, as are the souls of some long-lost children. Coraline's plan to rescue them involves, among other things, making a risky bargain with her other mother whose true nature is beginning to show. The rest of the story is a suspense-filled roller coaster, and the horror is all the more frightening for being slightly understated. A droll humor is present in some of the scenes, and the writing is simple yet laden with foreboding. The story is odd, strange, even slightly bizarre, but kids will hang on every word. Coraline is a character with whom they will surely identify, and they will love being frightened out of their shoes. This is just right for all those requests for a scary book.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2002 October
Think of all the stories that would not be if a child could ignore a locked door-from Francis Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic, 1998/VOYA December 1998). Here the door in question appears bricked up the first time Coraline opens it, but one afternoon she goes through and discovers a misty world peopled with other versions of the inhabitants of her building-with a few major differences. In this ghostworld, her workaholic parents pay attention to her at last, but they have become creepy beetle eaters with black button eyes. Should she stay or should she go? When Coraline declines to remain in this alternative world and have her eyes replaced with buttons, the other mother kidnaps her real parents to lure her back. One cannot help comparing this tale to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its companion Through the Looking Glass. Coraline enters a fantasy world where mirrors figure prominently. She is aided by a talking cat and must participate in a game of sorts to rescue her real parents and reclaim the souls of three other children. Coraline is a more savvy and sensible heroine than Alice, and the lack of nonsense creates a frighteningly realistic fantasy. Lean crisp prose adds to the suspense and propels the story, and the eerie black-and-white illustrations by Dave McKean heighten the nightmarish quality of the tale. Do not read this one before bedtime!-Beth Gallaway. PLB $15.89. ISBN 0-06-623744-0. Illus. 4Q 4P M J Copyright 2002 Voya Reviews