Title: Wonderstruck: A Novel in Pictures and Words
Author/Illustrator: Brian Selznick
ISBN: 9780545027892
Pages: 639 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2011.
Publication Date: September 13, 2011

He inched closer until he was right outside her door. He turned off the flashlight and put it in his back pocket.
The door was open a crack, and he could see the framed Van Gogh print– a big black tree and a swirling night sky with golden stars. A shadow moved across the room.
Ben thought about the shooting star and the impossible wish he’d made. With a trembling hand, he slowly pushed open the door. (69)

By 1977, Ben had lived on the edge of Gunflint Lake, in Minnesota, with his mom for all 12 years of his life until a car accident forced him to move in with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. After a lightning storm strikes the house, Ben discovers a part of his mother’s past and runs away to New York to follow the clues and find his father. Little does he know that he’s tracing the path that another child took 50 years ago, when Rose braved the streets of 1927 New York to follow a mysterious actress. Told in alternating text and pictures, Brian Selznick immitates and expands the concept that he first brought to life with the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret to bring these two stories together.

Anyone who loved Hugo Cabret is bound to fall in love with Wonderstruck because his pictures are just as detailed and intricate. Readers can see the care that Selznick took with each distinguishable pencil stroke, from the scrollwork on the set design pieces to the twinkling eyes. I get the impression that Selznick has a special affinity for eyes, as he “zooms in” through the use of several consecutive pictures that get closer and closer to the iris. I’m just drawn to the characters’ eyes in every one of the portraits, and the engaging expressions you find are very appealing and emotional.

The story itself, while elements are unique and I like the homage to the museums, is not as original as Hugo Cabret. Pardon the pun, but I was not “wonderstruck” by the plot. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it just seemed like the story dragged in spots and there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency. The ending I saw coming and wasn’t really surprised by the outcome.

The setting and illustrations are what lend the magic to the story, as Selznick weaves museum history and the awe that museums inspire with his characters’ enquisitive and curious natures. The other unique aspect was including the Deaf culture and perspective, since one of the characters is deaf. Selznick addresses some aspects of Deaf culture in his acknowledgements, and I really hope his next endeveaor is a sign language book, because the illustrations are so detailed.

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