Book Review: Coraline

“Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.” ~The Cat

Coraline_cover

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Middle-grade horror, fantasy

Synopsis: When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous.

But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Coraline will have to fight with all her wit and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

My Opinion: Ah, Coraline. The book of my heart. Clearly I love this book. While there is a bit of ableist language, the creativity, heart, and detail this story holds makes it one of my all time favorite books. The movie is fantastic too, although it’s quite different than the book (in fact, the book wasn’t finished when the movie was made). But I’m not here to talk about the movie, I’m here to focus on Coraline the book. This truly is a winner. Four and a half stars!

As this is a middle-grade/early young adult book, this makes for a quick read. But what makes it so enjoyable for anyone is the wonderful characters. While the cast is small, each character is well developed and purposefully made with their own little mystery. I really did love this, and the limited, unique cast made Coraline’s interactions all the more powerful. My favorite character aside from our heroine was the Cat. The relationship the Cat and Coraline shared is one of my all time favorite book friendships.

Another reason I think this book is so timeless and ageless is because everyone can find something that’s downright creepy in it. Perhaps it’s the old house with odd doors that go nowhere and somewhere, or maybe it’s the fact that adults are to be trusted, yet clearly can’t be. Perhaps it’s the button eyes that the Other Mother and those who inhabit her world have. There’s plenty more examples that I could share, but for the sake of length and to prevent spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. Coraline is completely atmospheric, with just the right amount of creepiness, humor, and suspense.

In a way this book is very straight forward. A girl goes on an adventure and has to save herself. And yet, the story is packed with so much more, yet these lessons never beat the reader over the head. Through Coraline’s growth, we learn lessons in hope, courage, and resilience. This has now become a go-to book when I’m going through a hard time. It’s quick, it’s fun, yet it’s deeply important. I also loved that Coraline reminds us that even when others have our best interests at heart, that’s not always what’s right for us, and those who say they have our best at heart, don’t always. It’s such an important lesson for anyone, especially upcoming generations to learn. Coraline is a journey of self discovery and an honest (although fantastical) depiction of that.

There really is something in here for everyone, whether it’s the humor, the moody atmosphere, or the relationships. The writing is lovely as well and completely absorbing.

TL;DR: I have no idea why you’re still reading this and not hunting down your own copy of Coraline. An important, unique, and fun book, I really do think very people wouldn’t enjoy it. If you’re a fan of Gaiman or are looking for a good introduction to his works, Coraline is a must read.

 

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Book Review: Mousenet

“With enough Mice and a place to stand, you can move the world” ~Trey (Mousenet)

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Author: Prudence Breitrose (illustrated by Stephanie Yue)

Genre: Middle Grade animal fiction

Summary: When ten-year-old Megan helps her uncle invent the Thumbtop, the world’s smallest computer, mice are overjoyed, and they want one for every mouse hole.

The Big Cheese, leader of the Mouse Nation, has orders: follow that girl-even if it means high-tailing it to Megan’s new home on the other side of the country. While Megan struggles as the new girl, the mice watch, waiting for their chance. But when they tell Megan the biggest secret in the history of the world-mice have evolved, and they need her help-she isn’t sure anyone will believe her. With all of Mouse Nation behind her, Megan could become the most powerful girl alive, but just how will she create a Thumptop for every mouse?

My Opinion: I rate books on three things. Diversity, quality of writing style, and the plot. This book was very much lacking in diversity, had a somewhat confusing writing style, but a strong plot and pretty fleshed out characters. I’ve read numerous middle grade books so I had high standards and hopes for Mousenet, but overall it was a hit or miss book for me and I wound up giving it three stars.

 

Considering the topics covered within Mousenet, I was surprised at the lack of diversity. The subjects tackled: divorced parents, bullying, contributing to the community as the top three are incredibly important ones, especially for the targeted age group. I was really glad to see that these issues were talked about, but for me some of the impact was lost because there was no diversity and little focus on how Megan and her friends, former and present, dealt with those situations.

On the plus side, there’s MSL. Mouse Sign Language. This is the way that mice typically communicate with each other and in the book we find that mice learned it by watching deaf students use ASL. MSL is just adapted for mice. What I loved about this (especially as someone who is HoH/Deaf) is that every time MSL is mentioned that the word “graceful” is not far behind. Not once is MSL said to be ugly or useless. There’s a connection between ASL and MSL and I’m so happy that MSL is shown is such a positive light because that reflects onto ASL. But that was really more of a diversity cameo than anything. It’s not a major part of the book, so much as it’s a lovely touch of world building. I think the book would have been much stronger if there had been some straight up diversity of some kind.

The cast of characters is good, if lacking in development in places. On the one hand you have the humans and on the other the mice. The plot is straight forward: mice see mouse sized computer (the Thumbtop) and want one for every mouse home so they befriend the human girl who helped create it. I was expecting a pretty big focus on the mice. Not the case.

There are some chapters where the focus is on the mice, but here is where the writing becomes faulty. The author tries to put us in the heads of multiple mice at the same time and it translates rather poorly, making me as a reader feel distanced from the mice, even the ones that we get to know better over the course of the story. At times it felt like the author didn’t know who or what to focus on so every other paragraph was a focus on someone/thing else, which got rather confusing and frustrating at times. This happens a lot at the start of the book, but gets better throughout. While a little confusing it didn’t make the book unreadable.

This isn’t such a problem once the author starts focusing on specific characters, especially Megan and Trey. These were the biggest players and the most fleshed out by far. When reading parts centered on them the story flows much better. The humor between Megan and the mice is really wonderful, well developed, and fleshed out. I just wish the same could be said for the rest of the relationships. The adults tended to fall into stereotypes more often than not which made it hard for me to care about them, even if Megan did.

The biggest surprises for me were Joey and global warming. Joey is Megan’s step cousin and although a minor character he becomes the most fleshed out and most developed one alongside Trey. His relationship with Megan is the most realistic and relatable, and I think that younger readers will really appreciate that, I know I sure did. He gets Megan into as many messes as he gets her out of and his relationship with her is so wonderfully organic. One of the high points of the book for sure.

Then came Global Warming. Ok, to be fair, it was mentioned earlier on that it was something that Megan cared about, and her mother travels the world taking notes on how global warming is impacting nature. Cool. That’s a great way to organically talk about global warming and show its impact and how people can help. 100% behind that. Or I was until the plot suddenly became so focused not on getting every mouse hole a Thumbtop (the plot of the book), but on how mice could help Megan save the world from global warming.

There was so much time dedicated to educating the reader about global warming, stacking up arguments proving that it is real that it really detracted from the story, and I found myself skimming in places. Not only that I started going into teacher mode. I was literally thinking about how the book could lead to classroom discussions and how to structure those talks and use the book as a vocabulary builder. I was just about ready to write lesson plans focusing on this book I was so distracted by the focus on global warming.  Did I mention that I am not a teacher? I’m sure you see the problem here. I understand what the author was trying to do and I agree that educating people in fun ways is much more effective than shoving it down their throats saying “GLOBAL WARMING IS IMPORTANT DID YOU KNOW THAT?” Oh…wait…that’s what the book did anyway.

Despite its glaring flaws Mousenet is still a really cute book with some really strong points. What’s done well is done well. The world of the mice is really well thought out, the humor is on point and the key players (Megan, Joey, Trey) are fleshed out. The idea behind the book is really brilliant and makes for a fun read. Do I recommend it? Sure, just don’t expect to be blown away or take it too seriously. Grab it for a light and fluffy read. I think the target audience (3rd-6th grade) will enjoy it quite a lot even if they find it lacking in parts. Again, this is a really cute and interesting idea, and that’s the book’s biggest selling point.

TL;DR: This is a really cute book with a fun plot and some pretty large flaws. The narration was choppy throughout, and there was such an out of the blue focus on global warming that it really detracted from the rest of the book. The characters, the ones we got to know well, were fleshed out, while the background characters tended to fall more into cliches than in depth characters. The humor in the book was spot on, and it’s nice to see a book where children are so empowered. I have hopes that the series will improve as it goes on but I personally won’t be perusing it. Overall, Mousenet is really a book of unlikely heroes that makes for a cute and quick read for anyone who’s into mice or science. Just don’t take it too seriously or expect to be blown away by it.