Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Review: Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick

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.


  1. I loooooved Wonderstruck! I would love to see it get some Caldecott love because I think Brian Selznick uses the images in an even more effective way in this book, compared to Hugo. But yeah, I don't know if it's likely to win since he won for such a similar book before. Maybe an honor, though!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Abby! I agree, the use of images here is even more effective than in Hugo-- and I mean, that's saying a lot, because I adore Hugo. Aaah... I really hope the Caldecott committee will judge this book solely on its own merits against the other books published this year, and not compare it to Selznick's previous work. I don't know if that's possible, but I'm hoping!

  3. I haven't read this but I've heard incredible things all across the board. From the pure love of it that I've picked up on (as opposed to the sometimes flimsy pop-buzz that gets spread around), I feel like it may be very much in line for a Caldecott. Thanks for the enthusiastic review!

  4. We mentioned this book (and its amazingness!) at our YHBA committee meeting today and everyone seemed to agree that it should be considered for the Caldecott. One can only hope! :D

    (I mean, really, if David Wiesner can win 3 Caldecott medals and 2 honors, I don't see why Brian Selznick couldn't win more than one!)

  5. Iwriteinbooks, thanks for stopping by! You're so right about the pure love that this book gets-- it's really wonderful. Like, I just want to put a copy into the hands of everyone I know. I hope you read it and enjoy it!

    Abby, nice to know popular opinion seems to support a Caldecott for this one! I totally agree, a lot of artists win multiple medals for works that aren't wildly dissimilar... so.... go Wonderstruck! :D

  6. I found my way to your blog following a series of BBAW posts from other blogs, but in between I had to make dinner, and now I've forgotten which blog sent me here! Sorry! In any case, I'm glad I found you - looks like we have similar tastes in books.

    Believe it or not, I somehow missed out on Hugo Cabret - one of those books I always meant to read yet never seem to get to. I have requested a review copy of Wonderstruck, though, and am now really looking forward to it after reading your review.

    Thanks for the great review and nice to "meet" you -


  7. Hi Sue, thanks for finding your way to my blog! I'll definitely check out your blog, too-- in fact, I feel like I've already visited at some point and liked your reviews, but I was probably too shy and never commented, so I'll have to change that!

    I hope you enjoy Wonderstruck, and will pick up Hugo Cabret if you get a chance. One of the great things about these books for busy readers like us is that they're seriously quick reads-- and yet they're so very rewarding. Enjoy!


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