Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2002
Publisher: Harper Collins
Audiobook Narrator: Neil Gaiman

I’ve tried watching the Coraline film a couple times now, and did not enjoy it. At all. That’s why I was surprised, and a little disappointed, when it popped into my top 25 scariest novels ever written list (tied at 16th with four other titles). I was genuinely shocked to see this children’s story end up on a list like this, but now that I’ve read it, I can see why some would consider this “scary”.

Coraline is a young girl who loves exploring her surroundings. Her parents are both quite busy, which forces her to find fun on her own. She turns to her elderly neighbors – who all insist her name is “Caroline” – and discovering what wonders her building and yard might hold. She comes across a locked door that is supposed to lead into an empty room. Once inside, though, she meets her “Other Parents”, which resemble her mother and father, but have buttons for eyes, and want nothing more than for Coraline to agree to stay with them forever. It doesn’t take long for Coraline to realize that her Other Parents have kidnapped – or adult-napped, as she tells the police – her real parents, and it is her mission to get them back.

Neil Gaiman does a smart job creating a genuinely creepy, and unsettling atmosphere, while keeping the novel appropriate for the target, middle-grade audience. The horror of this novel stems from viewing this unusual world through the eyes of a child. Even though Coraline is a wonderfully strong-willed, brave young girl, the idea that her parents are missing and she is trying to work her way out of what is essentially a supernatural serial killer’s web is pretty frightening. I can definitely see me reading this to my daughter when she’s a bit older, and it having an impact on her as I’m sure if I read it when I was younger, I would have loved this.

The world that Gaiman creates around Coraline is fascinating. So much so that I wish we got to see a bit more of her interaction with it outside of the lair of the Other Parents. The neighbors are all charismatic and odd, which makes them fun to read. One of the neighbors even has a family of rats that he is training to put on a show, which is quite memorable. There are points in the audiobook where these circus rats sing a song, or, more accurately, chant a few lyrics, and it’s really strange and unnerving. I understand that the main focus of this short novel is Coraline’s struggle to free her parents from the clutches of the Other Parents, but I’d have loved to get more from the supporting cast.

The story is darker and deeper than one might imagine, and pretty damn fun, even for adult readers. The audiobook is a great listen as it adds in a few musical choices that, as I mentioned, were quite strange, but eerily fitting. Neil Gaiman also narrates the audiobook, and he is one of my favorite narrators I’ve heard so far. He has a clear, intimate connection with the material for obvious reasons, and his performance really helps drive the story home. I’d highly recommend the audiobook version of this story whether this is your first time reading it, or you’re coming back for a re-read.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is much better than its film adaptation. It tells a story of bravery in the face of adversity, and the titular main character is one I’d be happy to share with my daughter because of how strong and intelligent she proves herself to be. Coraline is a middle grade novel, but is one that can please audiences of all ages. Gaiman as the narrator of the audiobook is a fantastic way to complete this one, and it’s a quick trip that’s definitely worth the time.