I like graphic novels a lot. Ever since I was a kid, I used to like to read the Disney graphic novels. I’m not referring to Marvel and DC comic books. I don’t like that style of drawing. It’s too serious. I like the cutesy and friendly characters and environment. It’s hard to find these types of novels when you are an adult. The best ones I’ve read are the ones in the Bone series, by Jeff Smith. If you get a chance, you should definitely read the compendium, Bone: One Volume Edition.
Anyways, the local library had few choices left after Bone to read. They fall into three categories, superhero comic-style, anime or modern weird artsy comics. Based on a whim, I decided to head to the juvenile section. Low and behold, there was a nice stack of cutesy graphic novels, including the Disney ones I like. One of the ones I took out is the subject of this review, Coraline, the graphic novel adaptation of the magical national bestseller. It is by Neil Gaiman, and apparently he is a pretty prolific children’s author.
When I decided to write this review, I was wondering if I should write it in the context of an adult reading a children’s novel, or more in how I thought children would like it. I still don’t know, but I’ll just write my opinions regardless. I guess it doesn’t really matter, because the book is a fun read. I can definitely see why 339 reviewers gave it a 4.5 out of 5 on Amazon. For a kid reading it, it’s dark and suspenseful with lots of interesting characters.
The story is about a girl, Coraline, whose family moves into this huge house in the middle of nowhere. The mansion, which used to be a single house, has been divided into four flats. One is occupied by her family. Another is occupied by two old ladies. A third is occupied by an eccentric old man. The fourth one is empty, and the door that used to connect to Coraline’s flat has since been blocked by a wall of bricks. The adventure begins when one night Coraline discovers the wall is gone and when she walks through, many surprises await her. It is not an empty flat but a new world with many interesting characters and twists and turns. My first reaction, as with most people’s, is that this sounds eerily similar to the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and even Alice in Wonderland. Gaiman must have taken some inspiration from those tales since the C.S. Lewis book was written in 1950 and the Lewis Carroll book was written in 1865, and Coraline was written in 2002. However, as with these alternate world adventures, it’s not so much how they got to the other world, but what is in the other world, what it represents, and what is the journey. The one Coraline explores is definitely unique in its nature. It is dark and suspenseful. Gaiman does a very good job at portraying this through the use of interesting characters with unemotional yet unexpected ways of speaking. The purpose of Coraline in the alternate world is easy to understand, and motivating for the audience to want to root for her and join her.
However, what is lacking in this book, is the development of Coraline. Although she calls herself an explorer, and at times in the journey she reminds herself to be brave, there is not enough expected emotions out of her. She is too even-keeled, too brave, and shows no outwardly signs of fright or surprise throughout the book. It’s fine for other characters to demonstrate this emotionless behavior, but the reader wants to associate with Coraline and the fear of her journey. Although this might be Gaiman’s way of not scaring children readers too much, or maybe to make the story even more dark, but I found it a bit distancing. I didn’t feel the fear I should because I didn’t think Coraline was scared enough. I don’t remember being that brave when I was a kid. Then again, Alice and the Pevensie kids also were not scared. However, they went into alternate worlds that were very fantastically friendly to children. Why be scared of a cute Cheshire cat, or a talking faun. There was also a lack of explanation for some of the other characters in the alternate world, which lessens the motivation for Coraline’s journey. The ending is also somewhat anti-climactic as it doesn’t fully tie all loose ends together.
These points might just be an adult going too deep in analysis of a children’s book. It is very likely that young readers do not need such deep character development and sensible stories. Even with these flaws, the book was a fun read. The graphic style of P. Craig Russell is very enjoyable. The colors are vibrant, the good characters normal and calm, while the bad characters are mysterious and dark. I will give two ratings for this book, one for children and one for adults.