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Coraline Review

by Lauder Hansen


Neil Gaiman wrote a fantastic novella that is worth reading more than once. As you begin to read Coraline, you'll definitely feel the chills start to creep up your spine, as you get deeper into the story with its mysterious bricked-up door and the odd and sinister characters, including a man who trains a mouse circus and a "mother" with shiny black button eyes.


Adventurous Coraline Jones and her family move into a new apartment complex, which was once “a very old house.” And there were other people who lived in that very old house, including Mr. Bobo, a crazy man with a mouse circus, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, retired actresses with an obsession for Scotties.


Then one day, Coraline discovers the dreaded door, a story element that sprang from Gaiman’s own childhood memories, according to the author. As a child, he had lived in a house with a “big, carved, brown wooden door.” Like Coraline, he had wondered, “What might lie behind it?” In real life, behind that door, Gaiman had found it bricked up, just as Coraline does at first in Gaiman's story. But that strange image also provided the inspiration that led many years later to this novella, a story of what lies behind the bricks and dust.


When Coraline decides to open the door again, the bricks and dust have disappeared, and she finds herself stepping into a flat that looks, surprisingly, like her own. However, there seems to be something different. Something very different.            


This is when she meets her Other Mother and Other Father. They seem normal enough, except for their chilling black button eyes. Her Other Mother, too, has extremely long fingers, and “her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.” it's a scary idea: If everyone has another Mother, where is mine? And what would I do if I met her?  


For Coraline to stay in this magical place, where all the food “tastes wonderful” and all her toys are “remarkable things,” the Other Mother says, “There’s only one little thing we’ll have to do, so you can here for ever and always.”


And that one little thing is having buttons sewn into your eyes! Coraline is led into the kitchen where “a spool of black cotton,” “a long silver needle,” and “two large black buttons” are waiting. All the Other Father can offer is, “It won’t hurt.”


An extremely afraid Coraline escapes to reality, wanting nothing more than a warm and comforting embrace from her real parents. But they are nowhere to be found; the Other Mother has kidnapped them!


To save her parents, Coraline, fighting back fear, returns to the magical world where her Other Mother has patiently been waiting. Coraline still refuses to have buttons sewn into her eyes, so a furious Other Mother locks her into a dark closet.


While locked away, Coraline meets three dead ghost children. Their souls have been eaten up by the Other Mother. Slurp. If Coraline can find their souls, they explain, they will be free from the Other Mother’s evil clutches…and, you know, the dark closet.


After what seems like an eternity, because time-outs are never fun, Coraline is released, and she instantly challenges the Other Mother to a game. (I mean, who can resist games?) The Other Mother, a demon with long fingernails, greedily accepts the challenge when Coraline bets her soul that she can win the game.


Time slowly begins to tick away. Coraline is forced to find the dead children’s souls and her parents. Will she find help from a magical stone that she received from Miss Spink and Miss Forcible? 


Needless to say, Coraline does manage to uncover all the ghost children’s souls, but only after fighting and wrestling with evil rats and horribly disfigured Other Father blobs.


The ending is perfect, not a surprise given the wonderful storytelling we expect from this award-winning author. Gaiman has written a fantastic novella. But be warned, it is scary. You will feel the chills start to crawl up your spine as you wonder if somewhere, your own Other Mother may be lurking, waiting to sew black buttons eyes onto you.