Middle Grade Readers
Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick, ( Scholastic Inc) HB rrp $34.99 Reviewed by Dawn Meredith.
This review appeared in Buzzwords Ezine for children's writers
It’s 2:47am and I’ve just finished reading Wonderstruck. I couldn’t put it down. I had to read it all in one sitting. To hell with work the next day! I fell in love with Selznick’s debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, #1 New York Times children’s bestseller and winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal among countless other awards. The 3D movie, Hugo Cabret, is due for release in 2012. I didn’t think it would be possible to produce something better, but this book captured me from the very first page.
The simplicity of the dialogue and uncomplicated style belies a complex criss-crossing web of emotions and unresolved conflict, exploring themes of struggle with identity, the meaning of family, modern attitude to marriage and children, friendship and loneliness and courage. So many aspects of human existence are touched upon in this book! It’s like an encyclopaedia, a reference book, available for children and their parents to explore together. A book of gifts.
As with the first book, the drawings are spellbinding and tell great chunks of story just by themselves. Selznick is so clever in his ability to show a reader how to be an interpreter of visual imagery not just a reader of words. And this seemed particularly apt as the story centres around two main protagonists who are both deaf, for whom visuals are everything. I liked that juxtaposition. The grainy, black and white illustrations of this 460 page volume draw us in, mute, but with astonishing storytelling power.
The two stories involve Ben, a young boy recently orphaned, who sets out to find his father and Rose, a young girl whose mother was a famous actress and had little time for her daughter. These two characters are separated by time and also modality. Ben’s story is told in words, Rose’s in pictures. Eventually we find Rose is actually Ben’s grandmother and they meet in the present day. Ben follows a trail of clues to the city’s museum where he meets a young boy, Jamie. Homeless, Ben stays hidden in the museum for days. But it’s in those days that he gradually uncovers a secret. Like unfolding layers of silk around a treasure, Ben realises the mysterious man from this very museum, Daniel, whose portrait is inside his mother’s locket, came to his home town by the lake to do research. And fell in love with Ben’s mother. But just as Ben makes this amazing discovery he realises that his legendary father died. I had held my breath, hoping for the best outcome, but no. It was devastating to me, as reader, that Ben be denied his father, after longing to meet him his whole life! But with childlike acceptance, Ben keeps searching, following the clues, until he makes a delightful discovery which brought tears to my eyes – his grandmother Rose. A new chapter begins in Ben’s life. A sense of belonging, an intimate family connection, a place.
Perhaps more than anything, this book does not seek to shield children from an uncomfortable truth – that life sometimes contains sadness and regret, that we do not have control over these things and that other joys may await us if we have an open heart and an inquiring mind. The delights of the old exhibits in the museum, the beautifully crafted cabinet, the ‘Wonderstruck’ in which his father displayed fabulous items and many other joys made this book fascinating to me.
It’s nice to think that out there somewhere, despite the loneliness and isolation of our individual journeys, that there is a warm soft place to land. Like a long-lost grandmother.