Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Published in 2002 by Scholastic Inc..

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: MG paranormal (?) fantasy.

My rating:

When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous. But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.


I really like Neil Gaiman. I mean, I haven’t had much luck with his adult novels yet but Stardust was a beautiful fairytale and I still think The Graveyard Book is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read.

Coraline is another one of his successes but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to young readers. Why, you ask? Well, I know it was written and published and marketed as an MG book but honestly, it creeped me out and I can definitely imagine having nightmares if I’d read it as a child. I didn’t often read scary stuff when I was younger (I was a big chicken even then) but I remember reading Dracula when I was about 14, for example, and it scared the sh*t out of me. The fact that the story is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations by Dave McKean isn’t comforting at all, as they are creepy as hell. Buttons for eyes? *shudder* So … I’d say Coraline is a great book for youngsters who are already used to scary stuff and even crave it but I’d be careful if the kid was a bit of a scaredy cat.

The fact is that Coraline deals with some serious issues. The image of a girl whose parents are less than enthusiastic about her is provocative in its own right, but the big question is: would she switch her parents for more loving ones, given the chance? I found Gaiman’s execution of this problem to be really good, he managed to bring all the tension into it but also gave us a powerful resolution in the end.

I loved the setting, the big old house with wonky neighbors and the strange feeling of isolation. But maybe it’s a bit much for kids? I don’t even know, it’s so surreal and dreamlike at times that I could hardly keep up with all the doors and hallways and all. Am I judging it too harshly? Am I being patronizing towards kids? Ugh.

See, I can’t even make up my own mind on this one. I think Coraline is a fantastic read but if the target audience is supposed to be the same age as the heroine, it’s too complex (the setting and the execution, not the theme – the theme is perfect). I’d expect this kind of complexity from a YA novel but then the theme is perhaps less relevant for such an age group. *sigh*


Have you read Coraline? What did you think?

Do you always trust publishers and authors when it comes to determining the target audience of a novel?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I also found this little novel to be a little on the creepy side. I actually read a quote from Neil Gaiman who said that the only people who’ve complained to him that the book is too scary are adults. I actually haven’t spoken to any kids who have read it and I hesitate to give it to my ten-year-old nephew to read. Am I being overprotective or is it because I know him well enough that I believe he’d find it scary? I can only guess. I’m also reminded of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” So perhaps we don’t give kids enough credit…

    • Ha, Gaiman WOULD say something like that. :) Yeah, I guess he’s right, though, we’re the ones who keep worrying about exposing kids to scary things. I am aware that books can help children cope with certain issues – I definitely remember reading “problematic” books when I was a kid/teen, so yeah. I think I’ll probably let my kids roam the library and pick their own books when they’re old enough, then talk to them if they’ll have questions? I mean, that’s what my mom and dad did and I turned out okay (right?). :)

      And YES, I completely agree with that quote – I don’t think I’d ever dare to be a children’s author, it’s such an important job! I admire those who do it.

  • I’m a fellow scaredy cat so I wonder if I’d find this too creepy for my tastes XD I definitely want to read both The Graveyard Book and Stardust so I might just start with those and work my way up to this one LOL! Lovely review as always Kaja^^ xx

    • Start with Stardust, it’s great! :) And it’s a relatively short standalone, which is SO RARE in fantasy! I enjoyed it a lot. It’s like a fairytale but with Gaiman’s twists.

  • I’ve only read the graphic novel of Coraline, but I really liked it. I do think it’s okay for middle grade readers though. Not everyone, but certainly some. Some kids love being freaked out, and some kids are way more intelligent than we give them credit for.

    Although it would have totally creeped me out!

    • I know, I know, I’ve worked with kids half my adult life, I’m just imagining myself as a pre-teen, reading this, and knowing I would have had to sleep with my door cracked open to let the light in. :D

      I didn’t know a graphic novel existed! It probably works really well, Gaiman has loads of experience with that.

  • Coraline is such a fantastic book. I agree, I can see the creep factor, but then I watch horror films for fun so I feel that accurately demonstrates my view to creepy things. I will enjoy it even if I am creeped out at the same time.

    It does deal with some pretty good themes and it’s really interesting. I think children (older children) would handle this book quite well. I mean, when I think over what I read growing up I think it’s no worse than that. We never give children enough credit for what they can handle. They are way stronger than people give them credit for, it’s normally parents and grown ups who worry more and can often put these fears on children as they then grow up believing they should be scared of things. It’s insane the small ways parents can influence their children unintentionally. I do think it’s one where you’ve got to know your kid before letting them read, you know whether your child gonna get nightmares from reading about button eyes and such and those that will revel in it and really enjoy it.

    • I know most kids would probably handle this well. I’m sure that’s why it’s so popular! I just want to imagine that I can keep my kids from being hurt in life – which is both impossible and really bad because they need that kind of experience to grow into fully developed adults. But the impulse is still there to try and wrap them in bubble wrap. Or something soft. You get the point.

      And yeah, knowing your child is probably the only way forward when recommending this. I’d probably say “read it, but I’m here if you need to talk/hug”.

      • This is true, the urge to protect your children is strong (or so I’m told) but I figure it’s like most things in life, you learn as you go along. I am a firm believer that I can’t judge something until I’ve tried it/read it/seen it/ etc. and so would like to think I would employ such logic to any potential children I might have. It’s not easy in practise, talking about it is way easier, though.

        And that is probably the most sensible way for any book a kid reads, especially if they have more complex themes in. I don’t think my mom said this to me on any book I read and really Harry Potter was an emotionally scarring experience looking back. She was there for the post book dissection I suppose, what more do you need?

  • I found Coraline creepy as an adult, too. It’s just… discomforting.

    • Yep. I never had Coraline’s problems in my childhood but this story just rubs me the wrong way somehow – not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just really, really scary. FINALLY someone who understands. :D

  • I really liked The Graveyard Book, but I never did manage to finish this one. It was assigned for a class and I just remember being so bored. Glad it worked better for you, though! :)

    • All Gaiman’s books are wildly different from each other, at least the ones I’ve read so far. I mean, Stardust is like a beautiful fairytale and then this one is a horror story of sorts. I understand that this is actually a mark of a good author but it’s also more probable that you’ll love some of his books and just find nothing interesting about the others.

  • I know exactly what you mean re: feeling like you might be patronizing younger readers by saying books might be too complex for them. I’ve slowly been making my way through The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which is another MG fantasy…and I’m pretty sure that most of its subtlety and beauty would’ve gone right over my head when I was 10-12. I want to say that it’s too complex for kids but maybe I was just a dummy back in the day, haha. As long as they have someone to talk to about what they’ve read – especially with darker books like Coraline – then I say go for it. They can always re-read when they’re older!

    • Oh, I’m fairly sure you weren’t a dummy at 10 if you developed into a reader that you are now in a decade. :)
      But I don’t know, maybe these books are kind of like Pixar movies, you know, when kids enjoy one layer and adults laugh at the nods to popular culture and such.
      And yeah, I’d probably give the kid Coraline with the option of coming to discuss it with me (and to get a hug if needed).

  • Sebastian

    I’ve only read one Neil Gaiman book so far and that was “Stardust” – which was okay but for me it’s one of the rare cases where I liked the movie version better.

    Talking about movies: Have you watched the adaptation of “Coraline” already or are you planning to watch it now that you’ve read the book? I really enjoyed that one and if it’s close to the book then I can definitely see why it might be a bit too creepy for kids :D

    • Ha, which part of the movie convinced you? :) I saw the movie years ago when it first came out and I had no idea it was a book at all! But I liked the novel a lot, too, the language was so reminiscent of fairy tales.

      No, I haven’t seen Coraline yet but I will soon – I can imagine it’s super creepy. :)

  • Maraia

    The only Neil Gaiman I’ve novel I’ve read is Neverwhere, which I liked, although I remember almost nothing about it. I’ve been wanting to read another one, so this might be a good place to start. The fact that you don’t think it’s appropriately labeled as MG makes me more interested in it, haha.

    I definitely don’t trust publishers and authors unconditionally. Or libraries/bookstores, for that matter. I know there’s a debate about Uprooted and ACOTAR, for example. I am pleased that my local library shelved both of them as adult, rather than YA.

    • Give Coraline a try if you find the time, I’m curious about what you’ll think. I have Neverwhere at home (the Slovenian translation) but I haven’t read it yet. A. read it and liked it well enough, if I remember correctly.

      Yeah, Uprooted is definitely a crossover novel but I thought ACOTAR was actually marketed as new adult (which gives it licence to feature more sex, I think :p ).

      • Maraia

        It is marketed as New Adult, but I don’t know of any libraries or bookstores that have a separate section. Some shelved it as adult, some as YA.

  • Soudha Parsan

    You make this book sound so cool! I’m definitely adding it to my TBR! I’ve read a few Neil Gaiman books and honestly, his children books are often the ones I like most. Like you, I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book. I do think that perhaps his ‘children books’ are not necessarily for all kids. Perhaps, indeed, they would be better suited for either older readers or kids who don’t scare easily. I, for one, will be definitely checking this one out soon! Nice review Kaja ^^

    • Thanks, Soudha! :)

      I hope you like it once you get to it! It’s very different from The Graveyard Book. It’s funny but it seems to me like every Gaiman’s book can broadly be described as “fantasy” but they’re all SO different!

      I don’t know, I’m sure kids enjoy his children’s books but sometimes they might need an adult to talk to about them or something. I know I’d want to chat with someone after reading this one if I read it when I was 10! :D