Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
March 1, 2007; Scholastic Inc.
ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Brian Selznick has revolutionized children's literature with The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Traditionally, children leave the world of picture books behind once they begin reading. The Invention of Hugo Cabret mashes together a story told only in pictures with a traditional mid-level children's novel.
The written portion of Hugo is also endearing, but doesn't break any new ground. It follows common themes of many children's stories. Orphan, great adventure, danger, friends. Hugo lives in a train station and makes sure the station's clocks are set to current time. A unique setting if ever there was one. He is trying to fix the automaton (kind of a wind up robot) that his father was working on when he died. Hugo's world changes when he runs into a cranky toyseller and his god-daughter Isabel.
The story had lots of twists and turns that I didn't expect, although the ultimate ending wasn't that surprising. There were also a lot of coincidences. Too many to be even remotely believable. I wish the book - especially the drawings - had taken better advantage of its setting and time period. We got to know a little about the 1920s/1930s through learning about the silent film industry, but otherwise, it didn't feel like the 1930s. Similarly, there was no exploration of the wonders of Paris. It could have been set in New York City, Berlin, London, or any other big city. Paris is necessary for certain plot reasons, but certainly could have been portrayed more richly.
While not a perfect written story, I recommend that everyone pick up The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Despite its large size, you can read this giant book in just a few hours. The story is charming. But it's the drawings you'll remember. They add a richness to the book that words could never convey.