In 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota Ben’s mother just died. Ben has to share a room with his annoying cousin who makes fun of him for being born deaf in one ear even though his old house–the cottage he shared with his mom–is right down the road. Ben is drawn back to the cottage as strongly as he is to the wolves that chase him in his dreams. When a clue about the father he’s never met points to New York City, Ben knows he has to follow it.
In 1927, Rose is suffocating at home with her father in Hoboken, New Jersey. All Rose wants is to be able to go out by herself, like the other kids, and to watch Lillian Mayhew in silent films. When Rose learns that sound is coming to the movies and that Lillian Mayhew is starring in a play right across the river in New York City, how can she stay away?
Will New York City reveal its secrets for Ben and Rose? Will either of them find what they’re searching for in Wonderstruck (2011) by Brian Selznick?
Wonderstruck is Selznick’s second book told in words and pictures like his Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In this book Ben’s story in words intertwines in surprising ways with Rose’s story told through pictures.
Although the format is still brilliant and the story is once again clever and utterly original Wonderstruck lacks some of the verve and guileless charm of Hugo Cabret. The story is messier with a more immediate sense of loss and details that never tie together quite as neatly as they did in Selznick’s earlier novel.*
New York’s American Museum of Natural History plays a prominent role in this story adding a nice to dimension to the story that will make it especially appealing for some readers** but Wonderstruck felt very busy as though it was tackling too much in one book.
That is not to say that Brian Selznick is not a genius. He is–that fact is beyond debate. He combines words and pictures in a new way reinventing the whole idea of printed stories and blurring the line between prose fiction and picture books. His books are also always filled with historical details and facts that are well documented in a bibliography at the end of the story. Wonderstruck is a particularly find pick for anyone with an interest in New York City or museums.
*I’m thinking particularly of Jamie’s behavior in the book. Also the fact that Ben never felt much of a loss after the lightning strike. Did anyone else find that odd?
**Like everyone who went to my grade school in 1993. Our building had asbestos so for a few months while it was being removed my entire school was bussed to the AMNH and we had classes there. We ate lunch under the whale every day. True story.
Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli