Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is an excellent, supremely creative, professional, well-reviewed author. The books I’ve read of his have all been unique, surprising, enthralling, and fully enjoyable. He gets it right here again with Coraline, a creepy but sophisticated tale of a polite, brave, and thoroughly admirable young girl.

Coraline lives in a drab flat with her too-busy parents who largely ignore her. She has a fine imagination though, and an explorer’s heart, so she mostly keeps herself busy. However, her boredom grows too big one day, and she finds herself where she shouldn’t be--exploring a mysterious door in her house that usually only leads to a brick wall. Except when it doesn’t. With the use of a strange old key, the door opens on a dark hallway to an oddly familiar world that seems to be a mirror of her own. However, everything there is quite a bit spookier and has a sinister edge. Especially her “other mother”, a frightful character who wants Coraline to love her, and to stay with her . . . forever. Thankfully Coraline smartly resists the ghastly woman’s tricks. Then, with the aid of an intriguing talking cat and a few friendly ghosts, our young heroine frees herself from the scary world, escaping back to the safety of her plain--but wonderful--home. Through it all, facing her fears and plenty of danger, Coraline remains calm, determined and brave, making her a great role model.

The spookiness in this book is a bit hard to pin down. The style and vibe certainly makes the skin crawl, as it’s supposed to. The “other mother” is truly awful with her evil motives; big, black, lifeless button eyes; and terrible clickety-clackety hands. For some, the book will be fun chills. Yet it could also be downright too-much-to-handle for others. Coraline is young, elementary age probably, so she will appeal to 8 or 9 year olds and up. But adults need to be sure the reader or listener can handle the chills in the book. I haven’t read any of The Goosebumps series, but I expect Coraline is quite similar to some of those. And it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with “sophisticated scary” (that’s really the best way I can describe it), not cheap thrills.

There’s no gore, violence or anything over the top at all. It’s a very minimalist, short, quick read that’s precisely written to put butterflies in our stomachs and make our neck hairs stand on end. Specifically, there is one scene which takes place in the basement of the house in the odd world where the “other mother” lives. Coraline encounters a person who is meant to trap her and keep her in the basement. But she figures out the trap and makes her escape, only to have the thing in the basement turn to a monster. At this point, things get pretty dicey for our little heroine. Coraline escapes, of course, but I do recall this scene being intense. The point is, maybe read a few more reviews on Amazon to get a feel for the creepiness level, and make sure the person you’d like to have the book is not too sensitive.

If you want to read it first to pre-screen it, I’d highly recommend doing so. Coraline is excellent, and Gaiman is top-notch, so the novel should be enjoyed by adults as well as any young, spooky-loving, bookworms out there. Any big Halloween fans you know would probably really like the creepiness, though it has nothing to do with Halloween specifically. I just mention that to help identify the right audience.

The book is sparsely illustrated by neat, stylistic, black and white sketches. These perfectly fit the dark, creepy mood of the book and add to the overall goosebumpy effect. There's also an animated movie which came out a few years ago that I bet is rather scary. Though it would again be that "sophisticated scary" that I keep talking about!

Lastly, Coraline is absolutely ideal for reading aloud, so perhaps that’s the best way to share it with youngsters. You’d be able to smooth over any scary parts and talk through anything you sense could be too frightening. There are plenty of fun voices to do along with many great descriptions and chilling chapter cliffhangers. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, Coraline herself is a wonderful main character who’s loveable and easy to cheer for so she has plenty of kid appeal. And, it may help you to know (sorry in advance for the spoiler), everything turns out well in the end, so nothing to worry about there!

Happy Reading!