I was a reading fool this week – or at least for me. I managed to complete (all in various starting stages) 5 books this week. I would like to think of it as my training period for the 24 hour Read-a-thon on April 18-19. In reality, it is because we just started back to school and I had managed to complete all lesson plans over Spring break. I am sure my free time will decrease as we get closer to the end of the school year, with final projects, tests and activities.
Anyway, the 5 books that I managed to complete include:
- Jane Austen Ruined my Life by Beth Patillo (review to come)
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett (review here)
- The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee (review here)
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman (see below)
- The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak (actually completed at the end of last week, but will count it anyway — review to come)
The last two books were definite stretches for me. I do not read much YA literature, except for what I teach in my 7th grade class, and being at a small private school, my choices are quite limited as to which books I can/should teach. Coraline will probably not be one of those selected books, but I am glad that I read it. I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of Neil Gaiman until he was nominated, and then won, the prestigious Newberry Award in 2009 for The Graveyard Book. I have had that on hold at the library for the past 6 weeks, and am hopeful it will be available for the Read-a-thon. I thought Coraline might be a good book to start, as it has just been released into a movie and there might be some students who would be discussing the movie version at school (so far I have not heard it mentioned, but then again, Twilight was just released in DVD form and that is now all the rage among the junior high girls). I liked the book – didn’t love it, but that has more to do with the fact that the genre isn’t my favorite rather than a criticism of the author’s writing style.
Now I might be the only one to see the comparison here, but I felt as though Coraline was a darker version of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. Coraline, the young protagonist in the story, has just recently moved into a new house, but her parents are too busy with their own careers to pay much attention to her (somewhat reminiscent of the professor in LWW). They allow her to go off on her own and she chooses to spend most of her time exploring (which is exactly what Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy enjoyed doing most). One day Coraline’s father suggests that she count the number of windows and doors in the house – which Coraline promptly does. She discovers that there are 14 doors, but the door in the living room (which is rarely used but is stuffed with her grandmother’s old furniture) is locked. She convinces her mother to unlock the door, only to discover that there is only a brick wall behind it (similar to the wardrobe being only a closet of coats when Lucy tries to show her siblings the passage way to Narnia).
A few days later, when Coraline is once again alone in the house and bored with seemingly nothing else to do, she sneaks the key off the top shelf in the kitchen and unlocks the living room door. This time, however, instead of finding a brick wall, Coraline discovers a dark passageway (again, just like Lucy walking through the dark wardrobe to eventually discover the winter land of Narnia). At the end of the passage is another townhouse almost exactly like her own. In fact, the people that she meets in this house tell her that they are “her other mother and her other father.” Initially Coraline is treated well in this other house – given good food to eat and lots of toys to play with (again, very similar to Edmund originally treated well by the white witch), but as you can guess, all this changes abruptly and Coraline is held here beyond her wishes.
This other house definitely contains supernatural elements, just as one might expect to find in “another” world, but the primary difference between this book and LWW is there is not an Aslan figure. There is a cat who pops in and out of the story at key times and places, but the redemptive element of a savior’s sacrifice is missing from this story. Coraline is a formidable heroine, however, and after defeating the “other mother” in her scheme, Coraline is able to return to her “real” home just in time to begin a new school year. I did appreciate Gaiman’s writing style and his ability to create a believable young heroine with whom I am sure the YA audience could relate. If I were to give the book a personal rating, I think I would it 3 out of 5 stars.