Coraline has just moved with her parents to a flat in a big old house where the other tenants are eccentric and odd. Behind the big, brown, carved wooden door at the far corner of the drawing room is a wall of bricks. At night, she dreams of black shadows that gather together under the moon. They sing to her in high, whiney voices: "We are small but we are many / We are many we are small / We were here before you rose / We will be here when you fall. “
The next day, the crazy old man from upstairs--he says he's training a mouse circus in his apartment--calls to her. "The mice have a message for you. The message is this. Don't go through the door." Her other neighbors, old and round former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, invite her in for a cup of tea. They read her tea leaves from her china cup. "You know, Caroline," they say to Coraline, "You are in terrible danger."
Nevertheless, she unlocks that wooden door to discover that the brick wall behind it has vanished. Down a dark, musty hallway, she discovers an apartment, just like her own. Same carpet. Same wallpaper. Same pictures on the wall. She hears a voice coming from the kitchen. Her mother's voice. A woman is in the kitchen. She turns to face Coraline. She looks like her mother, only her skin is as white as paper. She's tall and thinner. Her dark red fingernails are curved and sharp. Her eyes are big, black, shiny BUTTONS. There's a father, too. His eyes are big, black, shiny buttons. "We've been waiting for you for a long time," he says. "I didn't know I had another mother," Coraline says. "Of course you do," says the other mother, her black button eyes gleaming. "Everybody does."
Whew! What a suspenseful book for the not-too-faint-of-heart, with sinister characters, adults who don't or won't listen or help, missing parents, voices in the dark, lots of rats, and an unflappable heroine. Readers will love comparing the movie and the new graphic novel version with the original book. Gaiman won the 2009 Newbery Medal for the even more suspenseful The Graveyard Book. Readers will be well advised to read Gaiman’s books while the sun is shining.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: FANTASY. PARENT AND CHILD. SUPERNATURAL. SUSPENSE.
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up