Review: Coraline

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

The Down and Dirty

Young Coraline isn't all that happy with her life. Her parents work too much and, as young children are wont to be, she's bored. But when she discovers her alternate life behind a hidden door, she begins to think that her real life isn't so bad. Evil lurks behind every corner as Coraline tries desperately to regain her "old" life.

The Literary Criticism

Advertised for ages eight and up, Coraline is, for all intents and purposes, a horror book for kids. Scary, but without the gore.

And although I haven't interviewed any eight year olds on the matter, I suspect Gaiman largely succeeds in scaring the pee out of them. The alternate world Coraline stumbles into strangely mirrors her own, containing another set of parents who, despite their outward declarations of love and devotion, don't seem quite right. (Black buttons instead of eyes are a pretty big clue here.)

The alternate world Gaiman creates is quite well thought-out. And while the themes of the novella may not be original, the conveyance of it certainly is.

As rich as the plot is, however, there is something lacking in Coraline. We know she is a kind girl and even quite a smart girl. But that's about all we ever get to know. Ultimately, she's rather one-dimensional in a cardboard cutout sort of way. Perhaps this was by design, but I missed getting to know Coraline.

Our Recommendation

Hmmmmm. Here's the brutal truth: the thrill just wasn't happening for me. By no means is this an awful book. It won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, and the Bram Stroker Award.

I read it. I didn't hate it.

But neither am I running out and buying copies for every kid I know.

Maybe I missed something. It's been known to happen.

I do, however, have high hopes for the forthcoming film version.

While A Reader's Respite chose to purchase a copy of Coraline, you can read it for free courtesy of Harper Collins.

Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
ISBN-13: 978-0061649691
176 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: 2006

Other Thoughts on Coraline from Blogland

Crescent Moon Reviews
Musings of a Bibliophile
Children's Book Reviews and Then Some
Life More Abundantly
Eclectic Obsessions
Ravenskya's Reviews
Marny the Bookworm


  1. I'm listening to the audiobook of this right now and share your feelings, I believe.

  2. May be you had too many expectations. It happens with me for some books.

    My boyfriend had a really hard time in London finding this book. He tried in many bookstores but it was out of stock. Finally he got fed up and asked me 'What is so special in this book?'. And i was like I don't know, I have just heard a lot about it, thats all :)

  3. That is interesting. I have heard both good and bad on this one. Just recently, I purchased The Graveyard Book by the same author, and then immediately after I bought it, it won the Newberry. I'm reading it to my kids, a chapter a day. They are officially creeped out, but kids dig that kind of thing.

  4. those button eyes are very creepy...

  5. I have yet to read anything by Neil Gaiman, and I'm afraid I'll suffer from 'too high expectation syndrome' when I do!

    My son's bday is coming up, so I may get this (or *The Graveyard Book*) for him, and let him further vet it for me.

  6. I really ought to read this one. Thanks for the link btw! I think the movie is going to be VERY good!!!

    I have an award for you here.

  7. Like Amy, I listened to it instead of read it. I agree that Coraline was one-dimensional, but I thought perhaps that was by design.

    It was my first book Gaiman and I haven't felt the need to read anymore by him.

    On the other hand, the spooky part worked, and so I generally liked the book (pre-blogging days, no review up), and rated it a 6 out of 10.

  8. I agree with Beth - Coraline was a little one dimensional, but I think that it was by design. The button eyes totally creeped me out. I am excited about the movie - it looks awesome.

  9. I laughed when I saw your post this morning Michele. I just finished this book too. I hope to get my review up tonight-it's not like there's tons to say about it. lol. It was ok for me, not great. It did creep me out though.

  10. Amy - Dar just finished the audio, too. Weird, huh? What made all of us pick this one up at the same time?

    Violet - yes, I think you're right. I read Neil's blog and am aware of the cult-like following he has, so I was expecting something WOW.

    Sandy - I have The Graveyard Book as well and I think I'm going to fit it in quickly and not give up on this author.

    Caite - I think the buttons are even creepier in the book. ;)

    Dawn - I'm keeping Coraline for my kids when they get older. I do think it would be a fun, creepy read for them!

    Ladytink - thank you!!!! That's so nice of you (and made my whole day!)!

    Beth - I have a feeling you might be right. After I finished the book I had the impression that I'm just not literary (or British) enough to appreciate what he was doing there.

    Nely - I'm definitely going to catch the movie version, which is weird for me since I usually shun movie versions of books. But the visuals in the trailer are gorgeous, aren't they?

    Dar - I'm looking forward to your review. You're right -- if you say too much about it, the review would be longer than the book, lol!

  11. I read it a couple of years ago and really liked it, though I do agree with you that Coraline is a pretty flat character. I read the graphic novel version last year, and it was interesting in its own way. Definitely looking forward to the movie.

  12. This is one I want to read, but the previews for the movie gave my daughter, 9, nightmares, so I think she'll be passing on the book.

  13. You know, I've never been a huge Gaiman fan. I feel a lot of his characters are like that. Also, I felt like he spent all this time creating his fantasy world (In Stardust) but didn't build up the 'normal' world. So it felt uneven. Was it this way with Coraline?

    I'm with you, though. I really can't wait to see this movie. It looks fantastic.

  14. I wish I would've known it was free online...I just ordered a copy for me to read with my daughter. She's seen the previews and wants to see the movie, but I told her we have to read the book first. Sorry to hear it was a bit disappointing for you.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  15. Michele, I've felt this way about some YA books and wondered if as an adult, and having read more extensively than the target age group (generalizing here) maybe I have higher standards for character development?


  16. Andi - did you like the graphic novel format for this one?

    Carol - interesting...I was wondering how kids of that age group might react.

    Smash - I'm wondering if Stardust was marketed for the same age group? If so, then Shana's comment regarding character development for the target age group would explain a lot.

    Anna - I'd like to hear what your daughter thinks of the book. I'd rather have a hard copy anyway....I'm terrible at reading books online (gives me a big ol' headache!).

    Shana - You've got an excellent point and I thought about that several times while writing the review. Our adult frame of reading could interfere with how this book was intended to be read. Too bad I can't turn back the clock and read it as a ten year old, eh? I'd probably feel a lot different about it.

  17. I loved the audiobook of this as Neil Gaiman reads it himself and with such pinache. I would recommend you give the audio version a try.
    You can find my review here:

  18. I'm sorry to hear this book didn't really do it for you! My boyfriend has been threatening to read it to me. I'll probably wind up seeing the movie first though.

  19. I've been wanting to read some Neil Gaman, so I may have to try reading this one for free.

  20. I agree with you - "Coraline" doesn't quite pack the punch that I expected it to. Also, it was the first Neil Gaiman I ever read, which I think now was not the best place to start. Next I read "The Graveyard Book" and was blown away. It definitely deserved the Newbery. I don't usually read outside the world of kid lit, but I think I'll give "American Gods" a try next. Thanks for linking to my blog. I also reviewed "The Graveyard Book.". Tanya

  21. Oh yeah - I forgot to add that you can listen to Gaiman read "The Graveyard Book" out loud on his website. There is a link to it in my review. On his book tour he read a chapter per city. He is an AMAZING narrator. He also has a funny response to a mother who asked him if her kid will like "Coraline" the movie. There's a link to that in my post as well. Tanya


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