Selznick, Brian. Wonderstruck. 608 p. Scholastic. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780545027892.
Quite simply, this is an incredible book. When I turned the last page, I wanted to start again at the beginning. It's that good. I forgot about the world for a while and completely lost myself in the story and the exquisite artwork.
Selznick weaves together parallel stories about two children separated by 50 years. Rose's story, set in the beautifully depicted 1920s, is told entirely through images, and Ben's story in the slightly gritty 1970s is told in words. Both children are searching for something, both have hearing disabilities, and both find solace at American Museum of National History in New York City.
Tension is sustained as the stories alternate back and forth, and the reader wonders what on earth is going to happen to these two kids. It's remarkable how much Selznick's art conveys. Rose's story is necessarily simpler than Ben's, but each illustration is so expressive, emotions come through with remarkable clarity and the reader becomes fully invested in the plot. Selznick's prose is strong, too. It's more descriptive than the text of his previous novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, since images substituted descriptive language there, but the writing is still fast-paced and sufficiently straightforward to draw in even reluctant readers.
When the two stories mesh, it takes a minute to sink in. I really had a moment of: "Whoah, wait a minute. What? OHHHH..." I can't say any more, because discovering it on your own is the most fun. But when you see it, you'll know what I mean. The transition is surprisingly emotionally affecting, and just gorgeous.
There are several themes at play in this novel. It's a very affirming book about searching and finding, and also about curating, documenting, and defining one's self and one's experiences. The rather unexpected theme of curation is especially endearing to librarians, as are the references to the Dewey decimal system and Ben's librarian mother.
When the last past is turned, there's a wonderful author's note detailing Selznick's meticulous research. Someday, whenever I have the opportunity to visit New York City, I will be sure to add the American Museum of National History to my list of places to see. In fact, I look forward to sharing this book with my children in preparation for a trip to New York. One of my favorite things to do when traveling as a child was visiting locations mentioned in books, and Wonderstruck lends itself perfectly to that agenda. I can't wait to share Ben and Rose with my children and seek out the special places they'll know from this book. Given that my children are currently still in diapers, I'll have to wait a while... but I know they're going to love it.
My big question after reading this title is, of course: will it win a Caldecott? I think it's completely deserving, but I wonder if Hugo Cabret's win will detract from this title's chances, since the format is very similar. I hope not! I feel like Selznick uses images in a slightly different way here than he did in Hugo Cabret, and I'd love to see this one win, too.
Thank you, Brian Selznick, for contributing another amazing book to the world.
Wonderstruck will be published on September 13. ARC for review was picked up by my library director at BEA and graciously shared.