Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Wonderstruck

I somehow missed out on all the excitement surrounding Brian Selznick’s first award-winning novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I heard a lot about it but never had a chance to read it.  So, when I heard last year that Selznick had published another groundbreaking, amazing novel, I was determined not to miss it this time.  I recently finished his latest masterpiece, Wonderstruck, and now I know what all the fuss is about.  This one-of-a-kind book completely captivated me.

Wonderstruck is not just a unique story but a wholly unique way of telling a story.  The book contains two different but intersecting stories, each told in a different way.  First, we are introduced to Ben, a young boy growing up in northern Minnesota in the 1970’s.  Ben’s story is told in a somewhat traditional way, through text, as Ben reminisces about his mother and tries to adjust to her recent death.  With his mother now gone, Ben also begins to wonder about his father, an unknown man his mother never identified.

The second story in the book is told entirely through pictures.  The reader is introduced to Rose, a young girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1927, through gorgeous, full-page pencil drawings showing her in her room, overlooking New York City across the water, as she works on her scrapbook of a famous actress.  The book then alternates between Ben’s story, told in text, and Rose’s story, told in drawings.  The two children’s stories parallel each other right from the start, as both of them set out on a personal mission to find something missing from their lives.  I love that kind of  symmetry and serendipity in a story.

This unique book fully engages the reader, pulling you into the compelling stories of both Ben and Rose.  I found myself rubbing my hands over the beautiful embossed cover of the book and the smooth, exquisitely detailed pencil drawings.  It’s amazing how fully Selznick can tell Rose’s story entirely through pictures, a feat that takes on an even greater significance as you learn more about Rose’s life.  And the prose describing Ben’s adventures is equally mesmerizing.

I’ve heard some people somewhat put off by the size of this hefty novel.  At over 600 pages, it is a brick of a book, but I read it very quickly, over the course of just two days, since more than half of the pages are filled with illustrations.  And while those wonderful drawings do entice you to linger, the story keeps you turning the pages to see what will happen to Ben and Rose and how – and if – their stories will intersect at some point.  The title is apt; this novel will leave you wonderstruck.  I can’t wait to see what Selznick comes up with next…and I think I need to go back and read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, too.
629 pages, Scholastic



Heidi’sbooks said...

Sounds like my middle grade girl needs to read this! Thanks for the review.

Julie said...

This sounds wonderful. I think I'll check it out myself. I'm not sure my 7 year old would be as captivated as I expect I will be.

Sue Jackson said...

Julie -

Hmmm...7 might be a little bit young but not by much. There is some adventure in the book since both storylines feature kids running away to seek something out by themselves. The author does a bit of an homage to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, so that part is a lot of fun, too. But it is a book that focuses on relationships and the connections between people. The kids in the Al Roker Book Club seemed to like it on the Today show, but I believe they are usually in the 9-12 year old range!