Looking Back with Button Eyes

Coraline horrified me as a child. So much, that I purposed never read Neil Gaiman again. Years later, I read Neverwhere and he immediately became one of my favorite authors.

I decided to revisit Coraline this year. I spent my read trying to dissect what it was that upset me as a child. I mean, it’s intentionally creepy. The heroine, Coraline, is a self-proclaimed explorer who finds a hidden door in her old house. It leads to an alternate version of her life, with an “other mother” who has buttons for eyes. The other mother invites Coraline to live in this new world forever. All she must do is allow her other mother to replace her eyes with buttons.

But I remember it being more than the danger and suspense of the plot that unsettled me. The feeling went deeper, into a dark place I feared to explore as a child.

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picture by pointblizzy

She seemed lonely to me, forgotten and ignored. She had no friends her age to play with and the adults dismiss her frequently throughout the story, even when she’s in danger. Her interactions with her father reinforced the story’s atmosphere of abandonment. He always seemed to have his back to Coraline when she spoke to him.

Enter the other mother who is eager to meet all Coraline’s needs, including Coraline’s desire for affection. But the intensity of the interest is unsettling, stalker-like. A silent watching and waiting, that quickly turns dangerous.

“It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold. In the other mother’s button eyes, Coraline knew that she was a possession, nothing more. A tolerated pet, whose behavior was no longer amusing.”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Back then, Coraline read like the story of a girl offered the choice of living as outcast or prey. That is what made the book true horror to me. Ghosts fade in the daylight and demons can be exorcized, but if everyone abandons you, then loneliness is always.

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illustration by Chris Riddell

I often describe my childhood as silent. I combated my loneliness by retreating behind the door of my imagination, where I lived my hours in daydreams of closeness and acceptance. I had a whole other family in my mind, whose button-eyed gaze never looked through me. I wasn’t superfluous to them; I was loved.

Coraline disturbed me because I would have traded my eyes for buttons. In some ways, I already had.

During my reread, I paid close attention to how her real parents treated her and saw that they weren’t as neglectful as I’d remembered. There is, however, enough repetition in the text of her father turned away and of her desire for physical touch, that I don’t blame my younger self for picking up on it. It’s difficult to filter out the part of a story that speaks directly into your life. What encourages me most now is how, despite his neglect, she turns to his wisdom to cope with the oncoming darkness.

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illustration by Chris Riddell

Coraline’s story is actually about how bravery comes from fear. Fear is essential to bravery, for without fear, bravery has no purpose. This is a lesson Coraline learned from her father. He helped her choose to face her fears by walking back into the claws of the dark.

“‘Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.'”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Coraline’s parents may have denied her the closeness she needed, but she was still able to learn from them, lessons essential to her survival and maturity. Dysfunctional, even broken, families have something to give.

My childhood will remain silent. But now, in the family I’ve chosen to be part of, I can fight to fill the rooms with love. I know the mistakes of yesterday because I lived them and braved their shadows alone. And as Coraline reminded herself that she was brave many times before she believed it, I will preach the pain of my past to myself again and again until it makes me stronger.

I will be brave. No, I am brave.

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Book Review: “Kell, the Alien” by Darcy Pattison

When I first got my Kindle, I was amazed at how many fantastic books were floating around to download for free. FREE! I went kinda crazy and tried to download all the books, paying little attention to content. I now attempt to be more discerning, but it’s so thrilling to be introduced to a fabulous new author.

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If you pay any attention to my reviews, you’ll notice I tend to read a good deal of Middle Grade. This is just as much because I enjoy light reading, as it is that I am searching for gems to pass on to my children when they’re old enough.

And this one was certainly a gem.

Darcy Pattison’s adorable story is about Kell, a young alien trying to navigate life on Earth after he and his parents become indefinitely stranded here. The characters are super sweet and lovable, and the plot is full of innocent fun. Rich Davis’ excellent illustrations scattered throughout the chapters make the story extra cute.

I have already downloaded and started another one of Pattison’s stories, and am only waiting to get the next installment of Kell’s series because I can’t decide if I want it in print or e-book.

I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of the first book. The Kindle edition is still free on Amazon, (which you can read on the Kindle app if you don’t have a kindle).

Download it here! And then let me know if you loved it as much as I did.

 

 

Book Review: “Where the Woods Grow Wild” by Nate Philbrick

It doesn’t surprise me that Nate Philbrick is a fan of Lloyd Alexander. I noticed similarities to The Book of Three as soon as I started reading Where the Woods Grow Wild. But the pig keepers and runaway barnyard animals in Philbrick’s tale carried me into another forest for a new adventure I was glad to take.

Nate Philbrick’s YA fantasy novel is the story of Martin and Elodie’s adventure in the dark and fantastic wood that grows across the river from their village. A dangerous wood that most villagers keep at a safe distance. But a terrible accident draws Martin and Elodie closer to its borders until eventually, they find themselves lost in the dark, wild wood.

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Three reasons I loved this book.

First, the characters. There were so many fun and quirky characters that just made me smile. I love having what I call “gentle” reads to help me wind down at night, and even though there were some high energy scenes in this story, the characters made it warm enough to qualify for my night read category. Along with fun and quirky, the story also had some steady, mature characters who elevated the flow of the story with their wisdom.

Second, setting. Philbrick has a great ability to paint a scene, and with a book that takes place in such a fantastic world, it was especially fun to be drawn deep into the forest while the author’s pen hemmed me in with trees.

Third, and most important, themes. I loved how Philbrick’s story included a character with a physical handicap, and how he showed the character’s struggles to cope with the everyday hardships that came along with it. The story talked about supporting one another through suffering, overcoming trials, and honesty in relationships.

I highly suggest scooting over to his website to check out his novels, as well as his fantastic artwork (he designed the cover of his novel himself!). He’s also pretty fun to follow on Twitter.

Book Review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

The more I read them, the more I love old myths and legends. They’re more than stories, more than magic and gods and the fantastic, they’re part of the history of a people group. They give insight into what mattered to a culture, what a people believed about themselves and life.

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My husband is half Norwegian. His father’s parents emigrated to the United States after their first child was born. They are all very proud of their heritage, which shows itself in recipes, jokes, and heirlooms and even a regularly repeated rumor of lineage to Odin. *wrinkles nose dubiously* So when one of my favorite authors announced that he was releasing a book of Norse Myths, I was extra excited to read it.

I often describe Neil Gaiman’s writing voice as beautiful to the point of dangerous. His tone is fluid, poetic, and enchanting. Once he begins to tell a story, I don’t want to stop listening, and if my 9 month old baby wasn’t trying to nibble the book every time it appeared, I would easily have finished this book in two days. In the end, it took me two weeks and the dust jacket, which frequently sacrificed itself as bate to her grabby, curious hands, barely escaped with its life.

The myths inside are not written as a bare timeline of incidents the way I remember Hamilton’s Mythology, (which, while informative, I will always refer to as “the cure for insomnia”). Norse Mythology read like a novel, each episode one step closer to the inevitable doomsday of the gods, Ragnarök. The cast of characters includes fiendish dwarves, clever giants, and many flawed, yet powerful gods. Gaiman tells each tale with his usual flourish and touch of humor. It was perfectly executed.

Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

Book Review: “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning

I first picked up The Ragamuffin Gospel over ten years ago. My parents forewarned me that Brennan Manning was basically a heretic, and that I probably shouldn’t read it because I was easily confused. I was rebellious enough to insist I had the wisdom to discern truth from error, but inwardly terrified I’d be led astray. I skimmed it, then promptly reported to the authorities that they were absolutely right and should I throw the book in the trash now?

This time I actually read it.

Manning delves deep into the relentlessness of God’s love. He reminds the reader how small, broken, and messed up we are, ragamuffins all, and how only those who embrace their own innate neediness can be open to the unfathomable love of God. I know there are many who feel Manning is a bit of an extremist when it comes to the overwhelming nature of God’s grace, but I found his book refreshing and beautiful. Though, I also don’t feel the need to agree 100% with everything I read in a book in order to find it encouraging or enlightening.

The church culture of my youth was your stereotypical hellfire and brimstone kind of church. I wasn’t truly introduced to the idea of a compassionate God who relentlessly loved me until I met my husband and began to study the Bible with him. I think that’s what made the experience of reading this book so moving, especially with its timing on my personal journey. The heavy discouragement I’ve experienced in the past year has made this reminder of my position before Abba like a cup of tea after a long winter’s walk.

“On the last day when Jesus calls me by name, ‘Come, Brennan, blessed of my Father,’ it will not be because Abba is just, but because His name is mercy.”
~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Book Review: “The Reckless Way of Love” by Dorothy Day

Since giving birth I’ve had trouble fitting reading into my daily schedule. But now with such luxuries as the baby’s regular bedtime, I’m finally able to sneak in a chapter here and there. I look for short, easy reads that I can pick up and put down at a moments notice. You know, in case the baby decides she’s going to dig some chokeable substance from deep underneath the sofa or crawl towards the ledge that leads down into the hallway.

The Reckless Way of Love is a lovely collection of thoughts from Dorothy Day’s letters and writings. Because each reflection is usually no more than four paragraphs long, it met my need for something I could pick up and put down without ever losing my place. An added bonus was that the content is spiritually encouraging, something I am in dire need of these days. I could grab a paragraph before minding the baby, and carry the thought of it with me as I went.

The book covered topics of Christian love, suffering, sacrifice and what it means to follow Christ. A writer herself, her book even contained a poignant quote about writing.

“Writing a book is hard, because you’re ‘giving yourself away.’ But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”
– Dorothy Day

While I didn’t agree with everything she said, I think it’s important to be able to read books from other perspectives, so you can understand other beliefs. I really appreciated her thoughts on suffering and about living in community with other Christians. With my husband still in seminary, we would be lost without the generosity of family and friends who have opened their homes to give us a place to live.

One of the nicest things to do with a pleasant read is to pass it on to another. After sharing a passage of this book with my sister in Texas, I offered to mail her my copy when I finished reading it. I’m glad that I continued to underline my favorite passages as I read, because every time I took out my pencil, I knew it would be there when she read it. It felt like I was sharing thoughts and reflections with my sister who is so far away.

“It is not filth and ugliness, drugs and drink and perversion he is asking us to prefer him to. He is asking us to prefer him to all beauty and loveliness. To all other love.”
~ Dorothy Day ❤

Book Review: “If My Moon Was Your Sun” by Andreas Steinhöfel

The first children’s book I received from Plough Publishing was Charlie the Tramp by Russell and Lillian Hoban. They sent it to me bundled up in a red bandana, as though the book itself had been a traveler and needed a place to stay. It was an adorable read about a little beaver named Charlie who wants to experience the beauty of the world by wandering the fields and forests as a tramp. I read it that night to my little brother-in-law, then tucked it safely onto my bookshelf. It hasn’t gone wandering since then, so I guess it’s still just as happy in my home as I was to welcome it. 😉

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Around Christmas time, I was sent another children’s book. Andreas Steinhöfel’s If My Moon Was Your Sun didn’t come to me wrapped up in a red bandana, instead it came with a lovely audiobook version attached, which is exciting for a whole new set of reasons. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t sit down and read it right away, but even though I waited several months before I cracked the binding, I got the blessing of reading this book to my own child instead of someone else’s.

Yes, I know it was far beyond her level of understanding, but I am of the opinion that it’s important to start reading to your children early, and at 6 months old, the only books she’s shown a real interest in are the ones that have finger puppets attached. So as far as I’m concerned, so long as it has pictures I’m going to read it to her, and she liked the pictures in this as much as the ones in Goodnight Moon. Frankly, so did I.

It took a few days to get through it with her, because her attention span is limited, but it still felt so special to share it with her. The illustrations are warm and whimsical, and fit perfectly with this sweet story about a little boy who kidnaps his Grandfather from a nursing home so they can spend the day together in one of their favorite fields. If you read my book reviews at all, you know I’m a sucker for anyone who has the ability to take difficult subjects and translate them into language gentle enough for young readers to metabolize. Steinhöfel did this beautifully, and got me choked up a little as his prose sang about how love can remain through loss.

No, my 6 month old didn’t understand it, but one day she will, and I can’t wait to read it to her again when she does.