So, Brian Selznick is kind of my hero. The author/illustrator just never stops amazing me, inspiring me, and educating me. If you have not read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, go get it now. Really, you should get it soon because the movie comes out in November (Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese), and you most definitely will want to read the book first.
The only thing that makes these books hard to sell to young people is their size. Wonderstruck is 629 pages. And no matter how many times I tell kids that the reason these books are so big is because of the art, the only thing that can really get them interested is a good book talk. And I’m talking about reluctant readers, kids who would not normally eat up a story in one go, and want more. But that’s what they would do with this book, if given the chance. Wonderstruck is no graphic novel. It’s more like two books (one told in words and one told in pictures). And the pictures are just breathtaking.
These aren’t the stick figures in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Each image can stand alone as its own art piece. And the way everything links together is just beautiful.
The book is about two different kids at two different times: Ben (in 1977) and Rose (in 1927). They both seem to be about 14. Ben is from Minnesota and his mother just passed away in an accident. He lives with his cousins and keeps dreaming about wolves. His cousins live steps away from the home he used to share with his mother. And during a storm, Ben goes back to his old home and finds a book called Wonderstruck. Inside the book is the only clue Ben has ever gotten about who his father is. Just as Ben is about to call a phone number that might link him to his father, he’s hit by lightning. Rose lives in New Jersey, and her story is only told in pictures. It soon becomes clear in the images that Rose is deaf, and that she’s obsessed with a silent film star named Lillian Mahew. She collects scraps from newspapers about her, and escapes from the window in her house to go see her movies. It seems she is not allowed to go out much because of her being deaf.
One of the things that links the two characters early on is their deafness. Ben is partially deaf. And after being hit by lightning, he becomes completely deaf. Both characters are also rather sheltered. And both decided to leave home behind to go to NYC to search for someone. Ben goes to find his father, with almost nothing to go on. And Rose goes to find the actress she loves and to see the play she’s in. A lot was mentioned about Deaf culture, and how difficult, and yet also not so difficult navigating NYC can be when you cannot hear anything.
Both Rose and Ben are fascinated by the Museum of Natural History, and both learn significant things about themselves when they are there. Rose finds her brother (who we eventually learns helps talk to their parents about letting Rose go to a school for deaf children), and Ben befriends a boy named Jamie, who helps him find a place to stay in the museum until he can figure out his family situation.
Both Rose and Ben find what they need to find in NYC, but not without a lot of obstacles and adventure (and so much of that adventure happens in the museum)! There’s dinosaur bones, secret rooms, hidden artifacts, sign language, wolf dioramas, family mysteries, stolen lunches, amazing bookstores, and there are so many character connections. Eventually, you learn how Rose and Ben are connected and all the mysteries get solved, with the book ending in mixed illustrations and words.
This book really was just magical. There’s a bibliography in the back where Selznick lists the books he got information from for museums, wolves, Deaf culture, etc. And one of the really cool aspects to this book was that it is educational in a way that didn’t come off as educational. I learned about a lot of things without feeling like these things were shoved down my throat; they were just the things the characters were interested in.
I did feel like a little was left out in regards to certain characters. I wanted to know Rose’s brother more. And I felt like Ben’s cousins and family in Minnesota really got the short end of the stick, but I didn’t really care because I barely knew them. And I get that it would be hard to include images and words to every character introduced, but I kind of felt like in regards to the family Ben leaves behind, I needed a little bit more. Though, who knows how long the book would be then? And it’s never really a bad thing to say I want more of something, is it?
All in all, I give this a 10/10. Really, it’s just so much fun reading Selznick’s books.