Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Musings: Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck Brian Selznick
Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck is a new illustrated novel by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I really enjoy the way Selznick incorporates visuals into his stories.  He's heavily influenced by cinematic techniques of zooming in and out, and his illustrations are really quite captivating.

Wonderstruck takes place in Minnesota and New York, alternating between 1927 and 1977.  Ben is a young boy growing up in backwoods Minnesota in the 1970s.  His mother has recently passed away and he misses her horribly.  He never knew his father.  One night, going through his mom's old things, he comes across a few clues that may lead to his father.  Impulsively, he hops on a bus and goes to New York, hoping to find his father.

Running concurrent to this is Rose's story, told in lovely pencil sketches.  Rose is a deaf girl growing up in 1927 Hoboken, NJ.  She loves silent films, but leads a lonely existence.  Her mother and father are divorced and neither pays her much attention.  She is close to her brother Walter, but he lives in New York.  One day, she, like Ben, gets up and goes to New York to visit her mother.

Eventually, Rose's and Ben's story intertwine with each, and that moment is wonderful because we get to see visual representations of characters that we know so well.  This book really is quite beautiful, and I loved that the American Museum of Natural History had such a large role to play in the story.  It's the main scene for much of the book, and as a museum-lover, I was happy to spend so much time there.  I also really liked how this book was told from the point of view of two deaf characters.  I can only imagine what life must be like to communicate only through sight, and I think that an illustrated novel is such a poignant way to share the story of two people who cannot hear but must use gestures and written words to connect to the world around them.  I love books in general for their power to transcend boundaries like these, and this book in particular is a wonderful way of getting the message across.

However, I didn't like this book as much as I enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and I was a little disappointed with the story overall.  There was a lot going on here- loss of a beloved family member, dealing with a handicap, the overwhelming nature of New York, loneliness, the intoxicating nature of a history museum, rebellion, finding a missing father, and education for the deaf.  In a way, there's far too much here for one book, and I thought the book ended in far too much summary and not enough story.  Rose summarizes all of her life and those of other characters in several pages towards the end in a way that I thought upset the magical and delicate balance of sharing the story through pictures and words.  Before, both words and illustrations contributed to the advancement of the plot (though Rose's illustrated story advanced much less than Ben's word-written story).  But at the end, it switched completely to words and I thought it felt very rushed.

I personally thought the most moving scene in the story is when Rose realizes that her beloved silent films are making way for "talkies," and her movie-going experience will never be the same ever again.  The artwork accompanying this realization is beautiful and so sad.  And it's those moments that make Wonderstruck a novel worth reading, to give us a small sense of what it's like to grow up deaf in a very noisy world.

Note:  This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.  I received this book for free to review.


  1. I'll be reading this during Readathon, and I keep hearing a lot of mixed reviews. Some people seem to love it just as much as Hugo, others are disappointed. So I'm going in reserved. I guess we'll see.

  2. I haven't read any books by this author, but it sounds like if I were to start, that Hugo would be the better book. I like the sound of this one too, but from your description, I agree that there might be a little bit too much going on here. However I am really interested in the subplot of the character's deafness. I studied sign language in high-school, and find the deaf culture fascinating. Very thoughtful and deep review today, Aarti!

  3. Amanda - Reserved is a good way to go into any book you anticipate as much as I know you anticipate this one! I think there was just too much going on to be shared easily in the format Selznick chose.

    Zibilee - Yes, that part was very interesting! I didn't know you studied sign language :-)

  4. I just loved this. I think he is so amazing. I agree with what you said about Rose's summary ending though.

  5. I am really curious about this book. I almost bought it when I bought my birthday loot and the reason I didn't was because they didn't have it for some reason...

  6. Aha, the Hugo book, I thought the name sounds familiar but sometimes I just do not connect the dots

  7. I liked Hugo Cabret reasonably well, but more in concept than in execution. I mean I love the mixing of art with the story, but the art was awesome and the story wasn't awesome. So, boo. Balance is necessary.

  8. rhapsody - Yes, I just didn't like the ending and didn't think the story had enough depth.

    Kelly - Oh, annoying! Hopefully you can read it soon :)

    Blodeuedd - Haha, yes, there's the connection!

    Jenny - Yes, I agree completely! I felt much the same.

  9. I do like that cover! Reading reviews of new young adult fiction makes me wish I hadn't given up my MA in Children's Literature! Ah well, enjoyed reading your review!

  10. Hi Aarti,
    Nice review! This seems like an interesting book, especially the part you mentioned about the deaf girl and the movies turning into talkies is so very touching.
    You have a very nice blog here. I am blogrolling you on mine :)

  11. I loved this book. I haven't read The Invention of Hugo Cabret but must if it's better than this one.

  12. Have I ever told you that it took me a LOOOOONg time to realize your header was someone reading? ANyway, I think of it everytime i visit here.
    Happy Readathon regardless of your level of participation. :)

  13. I'm excited to try this one because I also really enjoyed Hugo Cabret. I love his illustrations. Sorry to hear this one was too packed with plot stuff. I can certainly see how that might be the case from your description of it, Aarti.

  14. The books sounds really good though and the fact that it's summed up at the end is a bit of a plus for me, I like nicely finished endings.


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