Three major adult authors. Three young adult books that, the publishers continually remind us, can be read by the parents as well as the kids. Whether they're masters of the surreal or the horrific, these authors have produced some weird and wacky books, and it's quite a mixed bag.
"Coraline" is Neil Gaiman's chilling foray into Young Adult lit, a deceptively skinny book about the grimly resourceful Coraline, a little girl who finds herself in a battle with her clawed, button-eyed "other mother," who has abducted her parents and threatens Coraline as well...
"Abarat" is one of Clive Barker's few delvings into children's lit, and the result is not entirely satisfactory. Candy Quackenbush (nice name...) tries to escape her small-town life, with her alcoholic father and depressed mother -- but she stumbles onto a twenty-five island chain called Abarat, where every island (but one) represents an hour of the day, and two devious rivals are trying to take control.
"City of the Beasts" is, like "Coraline," Isabel Allende's first tiptoe into young adult lit, and the strain shows. Young Alexander Cold is sent to stay with his chilly grandmother, who is venturing into the jungles in search of a mythical "Beast." He and his friend Nadia begin a strange journey into a magical realm.
Some authors, like Gaiman and his fellow authors Michael Chabon and Carl Hiaasen, manage to deftly and easily shift into the young adult/children's realm of literature. Some of their contemporaries, however, don't succeed because of the constant awareness that they're writing for children. One thing to always recognize is that a good novel is a good novel, and that children can read and comprehend on the same level as adults. (Just keep it nice and clean!)
"Coraline" is spooky, creepy, grotesque and a delightful read for people who like a few gruesome thrills. Gaiman gets a little stilted at times, but otherwise he manages to keep it flowing nicely along with the likeable heroine. Barker does a pretty good job, but often he doesn't really feel like he's writing for kids; it gets fairly gruesome and dark in places. The pictures are pleasant to look at, though. And Allende falls flat on her face with "City," scrabbling to get her Big Message across (basically, it's: Save the Rainforest) as she hits readers with stilted dialogue, two-dimensional characters, and utterly laughable plot developments. Someone needs to tell Allende that the kiddies appreciate quality too.
Gaiman is good, Barker is okay, and Allende needs to read some young adult lit before she tries writing it. Fans of the above should check these out, and fantasy buffs will find a trio of stories that vary from the good to the bad.