Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck
Book review by Monica Friedman
A Beautiful, Illustrated Adventure by the Author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret
In 1977, young Ben mourns the untimely death of his mother and wonders about the father he’s never known, a man his mother refused to even mention. In 1927, young Rose suffers in a silent and lonely world, estranged from her parents. The stories of these two children, whose remarkable parallels draw the narrative forward, begin to intersect in interesting ways as each finds a clue to their happiness and undertakes a journey into the unknown.
Review - Wonderstruck
Ben, born deaf in one ear, suffers total hearing loss after an unfortunate incident with a telephone and an electrical storm. After sorting through his mother’s belongings, he finds a few scant, old mementos, which he believes will lead him to his father in New York City. Rose, born completely deaf, refuses to learn lip-reading and cannot connect with her father. She is obsessed with a silent film star, and, upon reading that the actress will be performing on stage, also runs away to New York.
Both children are destined for disappointment, surprise, confusion, and, eventually, wonder and acceptance. As their tales converge, the reader comes to understand how the puzzle pieces of the story fit together in a most satisfying way.
Like Selznick’s Caldecott-winning novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a large part of this massive volume is told in rich and glowing black and white illustrations that draw the eye more and more deeply into the image and direct the reader’s attention to important aspects of the picture.
With crosshatches indicating not only darkness, but also confusion, mystery, and the unknown, and white spaces that symbolize hope, amazement, and import, the illustrations are rich and thoughtful.
It is Rose’s story that comprises most of the drawings, and her quiet journey from loneliness to family is depicted with tenderness and love. Her expressions of awe, fear, pain, and joy are rendered in exquisite detail, as are the intricate settings of her journey. From the elaborate cut-paper city she builds from the textbook she refuses to study to the treasure-filled halls of the American Museum of Natural History, every element is completely visualized and meaningfully lit.
Ben’s story in Wonderstruck is no less poignant, as the sense of drifting brought on by his mother’s death escalates until he too leaves his aunt, uncle, and cousins behind in search of something even less concrete than what Rose seeks. Both children are, in fact, looking for acceptance and a place of belonging, which they will find, although perhaps not in the form they originally sought. And, despite a gap of fifty years, these two children will also find, and love, each other.
A powerful, evocative novel, Wonderstruck blurs the boundaries between writing and illustration. Think of it as a muscular and intellectual graphic novel, or simply as a book with a lot of illustrated plates (more than four hundred), which serve to synergize the two storytelling elements for a whole that is much, much more than the sum of its parts.
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