If I ever have a baby girl. . .

I might just name her CORALINE!

No, really. A professor told us this, and I couldn't agree more. There is just too much to love about this protagonist. She knows what it means to really be brave, she makes the very best of her decidedly un-glamorous circumstances by exploring and making her own fun, she hangs around weird adults and drinks tea. . .

I haven't read Neil Gaiman before, though I do have a hand-me-down copy of Anansi Boys from my mom sitting around. I do love the Anansi folktales, so I was planning on getting around to that title at some point.

What I loved about this book:

-It's been a long time since I've read a Y.A. novel so beautifully written. I mean, Carl Hiassen's Hoot was fantastic, rogue environmentalist fun, and The Lightning Thief was action-packed and fast-tempoed, and Cormier's I Am The Cheese (yes, I really am just getting to Cormier) is a dark and promising psychological thriller. All of this is true. But Gaiman seems to want to not only craft a compelling narrative, but to bring a quality of the whimsical and fanciful into the very language. Per esempio (page chosen totally at random, to demonstrate my point):

"Coraline was woken by the midmorning sun, full on her face. For a moment she felt utterly dislocated. She did not know where she was; she was not entirely sure who she was. It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and is it astonishing how fragile that can be." (67)

Whaaaaaa? Not only a beautifully written passage, but one that assumes that the reader can and should be confronted with a mature understanding of the world. I like writers who assume this of their audience--especially when that audience is so often pigeonholed into stereotypes of utter immaturity.

-At a recent bookclub, we discussed how sometimes there is an unfortunate portrayal of the strong female as a girl obssessed with academics, somewhat annoying in manner, and fearless in a way that falls into the tomboy category. I think Gaiman avoids this characterization at all costs. Coraline is bright, sensitive, brave, loving, cunning, intuitive, tough. She is such a tender mix of all of these. She is self-reliant but not so much that she refuses the help or advice/wisdom of others. She likes to read, but gets bored of this too. She wants to explore, but doesn't consider every exploration an adventure. She knows, and states, that to be brave is to continue even in the midst of fear.

-This book is creepy. I might even call it creepy fantasy, but not horror. And there's something about the creepiness that makes the return to the normal world so much better, because the creepiness doesn't really go away. It just isn't as strong. There's a statement inherent in this story that we must appreciate that which is mundane, and Coraline, especially by the end, truly does.

-As I mentioned, Coraline really is satisfied--or, maybe enriched is the right word--by her relationships with the adults she lives with and around. She doesn't think anything of going downstairs to another flat to have tea with two old ladies, and she isn't terribly offended when no one can get her name quite right. She doesn't cry about having no other children to play with. She understands that the man upstairs may be a little kooky, but she doesn't avoid him or assume that he is up to no good. Gaiman has created a character who successfully avoids being judgmental. Kids and adults have a lot to learn here.

-Who doesn't like a talking cat?

What I'm not sure I liked (thanks S.S.!):

-Coraline's parents are super busy. They do love her, and this is obvious. I like the idea of children not be attended to 24/7; I do think kids need to learn to entertain themselves a little more. But there can also be an issue of parents being too caught up in their work. Nevertheless, the portrait of this family is an honest one--sure, mom and dad work a lot. Sure, Coraline is often left to her own devices to amuse herself. But they all care for one another deeply, even if they could use a little more time together.

-The whole other world Coraline enters is so weird I don't really even know how to describe it to myself. It's not a dream, and it's not time travel, and it's not even an alternate reality exactly, where other people liv--it's this world drawn by some force that is both lonely and cruel, a thing that yearns for others' souls, and not for companionship but rather, it seems, for entertainment. I guess what I'm saying I'm not sure I liked is that I still am not clear on how in the world this other world came into existence. It is referred to as a very old place, but its origins are never clear. I suppose this lends itself to the whole creepiness factor even more, but it seems like kind of a loose end.

-Perhaps in the same vein as my last issue, what is it that makes the special rock with a hole magical? How does it locate the souls? How does this voodoo work?! Maybe I'm not supposed to know, again. . . And what's up with the old ladies and the dude upstairs? Have they just been there forever, too?

There truly are no "What I didn't like about this book"s.

The question, then, is: which of Gaiman's books should I read next?


Mary Lee said...

Maybe the graphic novel version of Coraline? You've convinced me that I need to read the text version first. Great review!

Anonymous said...

We read Hoot at night with the kids 2 summers ago and finished it around a backyard campfire by flashlight ! This author and title are new to me but i can see my Sarah ripping through it for starters. Did they love you in your observation by the way ?

Charley said...

This was my first Neil Gaiman book, too. I couldn't get into the Graveyard Book, but I still want to try some of his others.