Monday, March 26, 2012

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick is the long anticipated second middle grades novel by the brilliant writer/artist who brought us The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Like many, perhaps, I wondered if Selznick could do it again, if he could create a story that is both enchanting and mysterious, that could weave together text and image as flawlessly, and leave me feeling awe-struck.

He succeeds on every level.  The story is told through the eyes of Ben and Rose, two children who live 50 years apart and whose lives are told in parallel to one another, Ben’s through words and Rose’s through drawings.  The reader is dropped into the children’s lives and then slowly lured into each story as the narrative gradually unfolds.  How did Ben end up living with his aunt and uncle and cousins?  Why does Rose keep a scrapbook of an actress?  And what do these to have in common that makes the shared story all the more compelling?

At one point I had tears in my eyes, I must confess, and it probably helps that I grew up in New York City and could recognize many of the details.  I even found myself smiling at certain points, nodding in recognition.  The climactic moment towards the end is a memory from my own youthful years.

But I digress.  Selznick once again does a brilliant job of creating a story that is alluring and compelling, always hinting at things but never giving too much away.  At the end, he includes a long list of thankful acknowledgements that reveals the depth of research that went into creating this book.  (I am unsurprised that one of the books he references is Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg, a memoir I read with great pleasure and recommend to adult readers.)  He also confesses to taking some creative license along the way, changing certain details so they would better fit his narrative vision.   Although a simple story and unforgettable, it is one that demands to be revisited, time and time again.  For the parent whose child falls in love with this novel (and I can’t imagine a child who would not), there is a selected bibliography that explores many of the themes that undergird this novel. 

It is not often a novel is so delicately written, full of hints that are not fully realized until the story’s end, that the reader wants to immediately reread it.  This novel demands to be read again and again.  And I know I’ll be seeking my local library for several of the books mentioned in the bibliography.  Is it too soon to ask about Selznick’s next novel?  I hope not.  I’m already eagerly awaiting it!

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