Sunday, April 27, 2014

YA Fiction: Neil Gaiman

Another in my series of YA fiction reviews. Check out my list of warnings from the first post.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. Published by Harper Collins, 2002 and 2008.

How did I not know the Gaiman wrote books for children? I'm not a huge Gaiman fan. I liked American Gods, and I remember the Sandman series fondly from high school, but I've never gone out of my way to find his work, so I must have missed all of his young adult and children books.

Coraline follows the title character, a young girl, as she discovers a parallel world through the bricked-up door in her flat. There, a spider-like monster (who takes the shape of her mother, but with black buttons for eyes) has created a mirror of Coraline's life: the same house, the same kooky neighbors, but all designed as a trap for young children, as Coraline discovers when she talks to the souls of some of the children who had fallen into the web over the last 200 years. Coraline befriends a black cat that is able to move between the worlds (and can speak while in the parallel world). Ultimately, Coraline is able to free the trapped souls of the children, free her own parents who had been captured by the spider, and escape with the cat. It's a short book, incredibly creepy, and wonderfully well written. It's literary writing, but not above what a child can understand. The book reminded me a bit of China Mieville (one of my favorite authors), but much creepier.

Overview:

Age-appropriate for a 7 year old?: In general, yes. If your child is easily creeped out by ghost stories, this probably isn't the best book. But if they find such stories pleasantly shivery, then they will love Coraline.

Positive gender roles?: There are very few male characters in the book (unless you count the cat). All the main drivers are female. Coraline herself is brave, resourceful, and quick-thinking. She's a well-developed character, and I particularly like the way she staged a girly-girl tea party as her final trap to defeat the spider. The best part? The author doesn't feel it necessary for Coraline to find and marry the love of her life by the age of 16, or even to have a relationship at all.

 Does the book reflect diversity in any way?: The ethnicity of the characters is never discussed, but there's no explicit engagement with diversity.

Final verdict: I plan to have my daughter read this. My only concern is that she'll find it too scary.

Note: if your child is the nervous type, but you'd like to introduce them to Neil Gaiman, I highly recommend the children's book Finally, the Milk. It's meant for a younger audience (my 4-year old sat through the whole thing in one sitting), partially illustrated, and lots of fun for the parents, too!

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