Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
September 13, 2011; Scholastic Inc.


Summary

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother's room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories--Ben's told in words, Rose's in pictures--weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful--with over 460 pages of original artwork--Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

It's not often that an author does something truly groundbreaking. Brian Selznick is rewriting the possibilities of children's literature. Picture books are no longer confined to the infant and preschool set. Illustrations do not simply support a story, they tell a story. Wonderstruck is a fabulous novel that illustrates just how far you can with words and illustrations.

Wonderstruck tells two seemingly unrelated stories. Ben's story begins in Minnesota in the 1970s. It is told through words. Rose's story starts out in New Jersey in the late 1920s. It is told entirely through photos. Ben is mourning the death of his mother and wants to learn more about his past, including his father, who he has never met. Rose is a deaf girl who longs for people and a world, that for various reasons have been closed off to her. Both characters set off on journeys to New York City to hopefully find what they think they're missing.

From an adult perspective, Ben and Rose's stories are quite melancholic. There is death, mistreatment by adults, frustrating friendships, and more. All this is framed around exciting adventures. I wonder if kids pick up on the sadness or if they mostly focus on the excitement of the characters' quests.

The book partially feels like an homage to The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. Selznick even credits the book at the end. Much of it is set at the Museum of Natural History which Ben explores extensively. The book also takes us to parts of New York City that the casual tourist is unlikely to find. I loved how Ben and Rose's stories eventually meshed up. I definitely did not expect the connection...although to be honest I hadn't spent much time pondering the possibilities. It makes a rather depressing book feel uplifting an hopeful. The only criticism I have of this book, other than being sad, is that it's a bit unrealistic. Not impossible that the various plot points could occur, but I highly doubt it. But I will gladly suspend belief for this book.

The illustrations are amazing. There are over 400 drawings. Each are made with such detail that I wanted to cut them out of the book and hang them on the wall. It's amazing how well they conveyed Rose's story. Not only that, but they reflected the characters' emotions as well or even better than words could have. I thought it was appropriate that Rose, who had no hearing, was the character whose life was featured in a richly detailed albeit silent world.

You must pick up Wonderstruck. It's a very quick read that packs a big emotional punch. A sweet story about discovering your roots, but most importantly discovering yourself.

Rating: 4 / 5

18 comments:

  1. I've been meaning to read this book. Thanks for the reminder. Great review too!

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  2. I loved this too - one of the best children's books from last year I think.
    Here's the link to my review - Brona's Books

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  3. I saw this last year at BEA and it did sound intruiguing but since I had already so many books, I had to pass on this one. Plus, I'm not usually a big fan of MG novels. But the illustrations are so wonderful!!

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  4. LOVED this book. I was really intrigued how these two storylines would meet. It made me teary eyed a couple of times. I actually didn't read "From the Mixed Up Files" until after this book and I think it made me love that book even more.

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  5. I've heard a lot of great things about this one. I really want to pick this one up.

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  6. I haven't read this or the one before it, but I do adore the illustrations and I would buy this book just for those:) I can definitely see why you'd want to cut them out and hang them on your wall, they're just stunning. I envy artistic ability like that:)

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  7. I think my son did pick up on the sadness. And he hasn't checked it out to reread, either, whereas Hugo Cabret was a regular in my house between my two boys checking it out repeatedly. I would like to read it myself. I love, love, LOVE all the artwork! What an amazing way to tell a story! Great review.

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  9. Oops take two let me try again...My kids are 2&4 and I can't wait until they move into middle grade books. This looks really good. The pictures alone. That one of New York is amazing. To think this has 400 pics, worth checking out for the pics alone. Why don't they make more adult books with pictures? Thanks so much for sharing this, Alison :)

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  10. I want to read ths now! i loved the Inventions of Hugo Cabret, but i think i'll enjoy this as well! Brian Selznick is a very talened author!

    Great review! =D

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  11. At a book fest I attended, Scott Westerfeld totally talk about how illustration should be use more in books, and not just in children's books, but YA. I think it's fantastic when an author isn't afraid to put in emotional punches in children's lit. Makes the story more meaningful.

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  12. I liked The Invention of Hugo Cabaret so I've been meaning to check out the author's other works! I really love how illustrations are incorporated into the stories, they're so beautiful. Lovely review!

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  13. Ok, this review had perked up my interest in the book. Thanks so much for sharing Alison.

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  14. This book looks like it's worth reading for the illustrations alone!

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  15. I've picked this up a few times but haven't bought it yet. It sure looks gorgeous though and your review has me thinking I should get it. I think its one my daughter would really enjoy as well.

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  16. How did I not realize this one was done by the same guy who did The Invention of Hugo Cabret until now? Anyway, the illustrations sound just as wonderful as in Hugo, which was definitely my favourite part of that book. I do feel a bit guilty for saying that I liked the pictures far more than the writing, but I do agree with you, that Selznick has a real talent for telling a story with his illustrations. A complete presentation. I'll have to give this one a go too!

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  17. Such a beautiful book! The illustrations are amazing. I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but have yet to watch the movie. I do want to though!!

    I love Brian Selznick he's such an awesome author. Thanks for the review!

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  18. Oh wow, this sounds amazing. I really want to read this and Hugo...I know, I'm a bit behind on the author...but I love how he blends pictures and words.

    -Lauren

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