I haven’t posted in a while. I really have had a terrible week. My dad’s been sick in the hospital all week, and for the first time in a long time, I haven’t really felt like reading much. And despite the fact that I am literally in the middle of several different books, I felt a need to do some re-reading yesterday. I have comfort food, and then I also have comfort books.
Though, I think I read this one again more due to the fact that I plan on seeing the movie soon than on it being just for comfort. I actually read the whole book in a bookstore, a few years ago. And like with what I said about Selznick’s latest book, the volume seems much heftier than it actually is. I easily read the whole thing (525 pages) in a couple of hours because a large quantity of the book is pictures.
This one is about a boy named Hugo, who grew up fixing clocks with his father. Both he and his father were always fascinated by how things worked, particularly machines. The book takes place mostly in a Paris train station, where Hugo’s uncle brings him after the death of Hugo’s father. The uncle is not a pleasant man, and when he disappears one day, leaving Hugo to work all the clocks in the station himself, Hugo, despite having no money or caregiver, does not actually seem worse off than before.
The train station to Hugo is home. He sleeps in a secret room, knows his ways behind the walls, and even knows when and where he can steal enough food to survive. The story really begins the day Hugo finds himself going to the building his father died in (by fire). He finds the automaton (self-operating/robotic machine) his father was working to fix, in the wreckage. He and his father found the automaton abandoned in the storage of the museum/building that burned and saw that when not broken, it was meant to write letters with a pen.
It becomes Hugo’s goal to figure out how to fix what his father couldn’t. He even childishly hopes that maybe the letter it will one day write will actually be from his father. His dreams come to a halt though, when the toy-seller at the station, catches him stealing from him, and ends up taking Hugo’s notebook (with all the information his father wrote down about fixing the automaton). The toy-seller’s goddaughter promises to help Hugo get his journal back. And the two children then embark on solving the mystery of the automaton, which turns out being a mystery about the people closest to them.
There’s plenty of film history in this story. And one of my favorite scenes is when the two kids (Hugo and Isabelle) go to a movie. I also love when the automaton finally works and we get to see what its pen really has to say. I love how everything is connected in this book. And I really love the magic. There are these links between clockwork, film, and magic tricks that were just so interesting! Hugo is an orphan that is just so easy to care and root for. I was dying for him to get back his notebook, to get the automaton to work, and to not be found out by the authorities before these things could come into fruition. I also loved Isabelle and her fascination with books, and her inability to let things go.
There’s toys, there’s mystery, there’s magic, there’s the secrets of the Paris train station, and there’s some remarkable artwork. Sometimes, I found myself rushing through the illustrations to find out what would come next in the story. And sometimes I really just had to pause and take in the artwork too, because some of it was just breathtaking, and could even stand alone, possibly in many separate frames in an art museum. I mean the book did win the Caldecott in 2008.
There was one little gap in the story that I noticed both times while reading. Maybe it’s just me being completely unobservant, but I’m not sure why Isabelle’s godfather made the decision to stop doing what he used to do. And I really felt the need of an explanation for why others thought him to be dead…Was this clearer to anyone else?
Regardless, I loved the story. I loved the art. I loved the characters. I really just loved this book. It definitely gets a 10/10 from me.