Coraline Jones and her parents have just moved into a house so big they share it with an old man who trains mice upstairs and an aging former actresses in the basement. An avid explorer, Coraline investigates the large garden and grounds around her new home until a heavy rain forces her to confront every active child's nightmare an entire day stuck inside with nothing to do. So she turns to exploring the inside of the house, and in a corner of the seldom-used drawing room, finds something puzzling a locked wooden door that reveals only a brick wall when her mother opens it with a huge rusty key.

One day when her parents are away, Coraline opens the door again and finds that the bricks have vanished, revealing a dark corridor that leads to an almost exact copy of her own house, complete with another mother and father, who have pale white skin and shiny black button eyes. They feed her delicious food and let her play in a room with toys that move on their own. They seem completely devoted to her happiness. This new world is certainly more interesting than the one Coraline left behind, but the longer she stays the less wonderful and more frightening it becomes. Soon, her other parents want to replace her eyes with shiny black buttons like theirs in order to keep her with them "for ever and always," and Coraline decides to flee to the comfort of her real parents. When she returns through the door, however, she finds that they have disappeared. It soon becomes clear that her other mother has captured her real parents in an attempt to lure Coraline back. Despite her growing fear, she must return and find a way to save them and escape her other mother's vengeful anger.

In Coraline, Neil Gaiman creates a world that is both familiar and frightening, and his long-time collaborator Dave McKean's wonderfully disturbing illustrations give the story a surreal, haunting atmosphere.

Gaiman has said that of all his books, Coraline "took the longest to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of." And for good reason. His first novel for younger readers is truly unnerving, completely original and well worth a look.

BookPage intern Emily Morelli is a student at the University of North Carolina.

 

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