Neil Gaiman - what a writer! Coraline is the third of his books that I've read (if you include the delightful picture book Crazy Hair), and I was not at all disappointed. I haven't seen the movie, though from the sounds of it it'd be just as maddening!
I'd bought it from a bargain basket at work after telling myself repeatedly that I ought to read more of his stuff, since I'd like Stardust so much when I read it. It was just sitting there, waiting to be read, and cheaper than I expected. So I went with it, read it at high-speed and loved every moment of it.
Um, what'd you mean "just as maddening"?
The premise of Coraline is that she gets stuck on the other side of a door, in a world where her parents have buttons for eyes and everything is too perfect. The world ends at the woods, when it comes a blank canvas. It's a fairly chilling read for a children's book, but not so frightening that I'd advise against it. As dark as it is, it maintains a message of hope and courage and doing things for other people, and reinforces an idea centred around loving your parents as they are.
Okay, so that's the meaning I got from the book. I suppose it works better for kids to read the book than for people to just read that it's about that. The message comes across through Gaiman's narrative, his ability to put us inside the mind of Coraline - without going into first-person narrative - and the necessary conflict between good and evil that children's books of this type require.
So, how did it compare to similar books?
On a horror level, it's less scary than the likes of Mr Mumbles (much less scary.) In terms of ingenuity, they're on par with one another. What Coraline has that's different to everything else is the innocence of the character encased in her boldness; she's more ordinary than any other character I've encountered in a fantasy-type story. She doesn't act out for the sake of it, and she's not too loveable. She's written as a child who likes to explore, and she's written that way perfectly and innocently so that we love her as a result. I've never read a character like that. It helps, of course, that Gaiman's other characters are all adults who under-appreciate her, so we're straight away drawn towards the quirkiness of Coraline as she explores a new, backwards world. It's one of the most original and fascinating books I've ever read, even more bizarrely then that it's aimed at children of about eight to ten! This is a must read for them, if they like good stories, because it'll set a standard for stories that children of that age ought to acquire (so they don't then consider Twilight to be top-notch writing.)
Definitely read this one, whatever your age. You won't regret it. (I hope).