Monday, September 09, 2002


I looked forward to reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman because of some buzz it was generating early in the summer. This kids' book has been getting great reviews from both children's and adult sites. Even the mainstream gave it a positive nod. Well, I'm uncomfortable saying this, but I found it a little over rated. Though it's a very creepy story full of atmosphere by an author who is evidently known for writing horror stories, its main character just doesn't work. So what I'm saying is the creepy part is just fine, the noncreepy part is the problem.

Coraline is too good to be true, not in the sense of being well-behaved, sweet, and icky but in the sense of always being able to confront every obstacle. And we never see how she works out these problems. She just does it. We never find out how she knows the things she knows. "'She has lied to you,'" a character tells Coraline. "The hairs on the back of Coraline's neck prickled, and Coraline knew that the girl's voice told the truth." Well, how did she know that?

She is also wise beyond her years, which I, personally, never particularly care for in a child perhaps because it makes me feel inadequate. But it's also not very realistic. "I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?" I'm sorry. Not many kids feel that way, and that passage sounds just a little bit like a lesson--an odd thing coming in a horror story.

Another odd thing about this book is that there is something about the appearance of the scary characters that's similar to that of the family in The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh. (A series of books I loved. I mention that to prove that I do like some things I read, though it doesn't seem to have happened much lately.) The similarity is so striking that I found it distracting. Perhaps Gaiman meant to pay a little homage to Waugh. Or perhaps as a primarily adult author he hasn't read much children's and YA fiction.

Which would go a long way toward explaining the failings in his child character.

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