Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Read in July 2011. Published by Scholastic Press. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual 2011.
Wonderstruck begins with two different stories. One, told in the text, is about a Ben, a young man in 1977, whose mother recently passed away, causing him to move in with his aunt and uncle and share a room with his cousin. His mother never told him anything about his father, and when Ben comes across some of his mother’s belongings, he wonders if he can find his dad.
The other story, set 50 years earlier than Ben’s, is told through Mr. Selznick’s illustrations. It follows Rose, a young deaf girl who dreams of New York City from her room across the Hudson river. She also keeps a scrapbook devoted to her favorite silent film actress. When she learns that the actress will be appearing on Broadway, Rose decides she must run away to the city and try to see the actress.
There is a reason these two stories are being told in tandem, but why?
Wonderstruck is delightful! The characters are very well-developed and so likable. Ben is a unique boy who likes to collect special treasures that remind him of moments in his life. He is deaf in one ear, and manages to embrace the benefits of it, such as sleeping on his good ear to block out unwanted noise. He is lonely since the loss of his mom and a bit lost in his aunt’s house. He needs to find someone who can deeply love him now that his mother is gone. Rose is a brave girl and refuses to be held back by her lack of hearing. Her unstable family breaks my heart and I admire how she can rise about it.
I love how the story unfolds and how the connection between Ben and Rose is slowly revealed.
Mr. Selznick’s illustrations are gorgeous. He manages to convey so many emotions in his pencil drawings. Much of the story is character driven and the illustrations allow the author to show, not tell, much of what the characters feel. The book opens with a drawing of two wolves and I fell in love with it. In particular, the second shot of the wolves where the viewer starts to be drawn closer to one is really lovely; I wish I could frame it. Some of settings include museums and those are so well done. Mr. Selznick manages to bring you into each space and allows you to explore the details without ever feeling like you might be lost in a scene from Where’s Waldo?
The research involved in creating this book is evident and much appreciated. I enjoyed getting a bit of a history lesson while bringing details to the story. Mr. Selznick also mentions in his notes at the end that the similarity to From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is intentional and that the book is filled with references. I missed most of them and look forward to hearing from those who can point them out.
All in all, Wonderstruck is a delightful book! I’m excited to share my copy with some younger readers I know, and will gladly order it for my high school library. I think it will be easiest for an older elementary student to follow the two different plots, but I think all ages can enjoy the illustrations and the mastery of storytelling displayed in Wonderstruck.