This week I am reviewing Brian Selznick's novel, Wonderstruck which you can find at Amazon or your local library. I chose Wonderstruck because I had read Mr. Selznick's previous novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which my children and I just loved. And just like Hugo, Ben, the main character of Wonderstruck is an orphan, trying to find the secret to his past. Both Hugo and Ben are, in a way, searching for their fathers. Hugo has an automaton which his father had restored partially and he sets out to re-restore because he believes it will tell him something his father wanted him to know. In the end, it leads him to find the actually inventor of the machine and ultimately to a new family.
The same themes are explored in Wonderstruck. We meet Ben, newly orphaned when his mother is killed in an automobile accident. He is already partially deaf and that deafness becomes complete when he begins to try to locate his father, whom he has never met and about whom his mother had never spoken. An impulsive and brave boy, he sets out for New York City where he hopes to find this mysterious man by following an address he finds in an old book about the American Museum of Natural History he discovers among his mother's things. Chance takes over and Ben is swept along my his own desires and dreams as well as the clues which lead to more clues and finally to an unexpected discovery not only about his father but about himself.
Mr. Selznick doesn't just spin a yarn with rich prose, which he does indeed do. He also tells a story in pictures. As in Hugo, Mr. Selznick gives the reader illustration after illustration, leading them along with each page turn, telling with pictures. In Hugo, he uses the pictures to create action and suspense. In Wonderstruck he uses the illustrations to tell a parallel story of a deaf girl who is also on a journey to find something, but for her it is freedom and a place in the world. And it seems wonderfully appropriate that her story is told through our eyes and imagination as she is unable to speak. Ben on the other hand is able to speak to other characters and thus to us. He is never truly silent only without the ability to hear.
Wonderstruck is a compelling story of the need we all have to know who we are and where we come from. Often that means knowing who our parents and even our grandparents are. And like Hugo, in Mr. Selznick's previous novel, Ben also finds a family who understands and loves him at the end of his journey. My children and I loved following Ben and the little girl through the text and the pictures. Mr. Selznick's illustrations are so beautiful and full of details and story. I hope you will pick up a copy of Wonderstruck and follow along on the journey.
Thank you for taking the time to read about what I thought of this lovely book. I hope it will inspire you to read more illustrated books which shouldn't be looked down upon as only being for children. I think the really excellent ones are for all of us. Please leave a comment and tell me what your favorite children's books are!