A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline's mother. Only...
Only her skin was white as paper.
Only she was taller and thinner.
Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.
"Coraline?" the woman said. "Is that you?"
And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Synopsis: Ignored by the adults in her life, Coraline goes exploring a lot—till one forbidden journey through a small locked door leads her into a monster's trap. Coraline's only hope to free herself and her parents is to challenge her enemy to an all-or-nothing game of chance, and then do whatever it takes to win.
Notes: First things first: Neil Gaiman writes some of the best contemporary prose in all of children's and young adult fiction. His writing is flawless, imaginative, and unique. With solid visual descriptions, the phrasing of a classic, and an intricate, well-rounded plot, Coraline is proof that children's books can be great.
Second things second: I don't particularly enjoy horror, not even in its relatively safe kid lit incarnations. I've read Dracula and a couple of Lovecraft pieces, and Coraline works on a similar level. It's a level I respect, but don't often take much of a liking to unless the darkness is strongly balanced by humor, warmth and light. For instance, Harry Potter and Meggie Folchart face monsters, but they do so with the support of laughing, loving people like the Weasleys and Elinor and Mo. Coraline fights almost entirely alone, and her loneliness troubled me. That was part of the point, of course, but it is not a pleasant point.
But I have to approve the epigraph, from Chesterton: "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." Colder, darker fairy tales may never be the ones I care most to learn or teach by, but I couldn't agree more.
Being the sort of person who greatly prefers warm, character-driven fiction, I struggled to relate to any of the characters. At various times I wanted to smack both of Coraline's parents and once or twice even Coraline herself, not to mention everyone else in the book. But again, that's a very personal response.
For the parents who read it, of course, certain aspects of the story may be a gentle and eloquent exhortation to attend more to their own children. I don't have children, but if I did, I'd be tempted to copy a passage or two from the book and paste it along my laptop keyboard. And for modern children, who seem to be often alone, perhaps the tale of Coraline and the cat and the beldam is applicable in very real ways.
Coraline is a quality work, beyond any doubt. For those who take pleasure in a ghostly story, it may be a true delight.
Recommendation: For heaven's sake, don't read it before bed. Pick it up on a nice warm sunny day.