Book Review: Wonderstruck


Some writers just leave me gasping for breath. I can’t put the book down and feel as if life is intruding on an intimate space that the writer, the characters and I inhabit. I was thinking of this as I finished up Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (whose The Invention of Hugo Cabret remains a solid favorite of mine), shifting towards the end of a twining narrative of words and illustrations that had me hooked from the very start. Selznick is one of those writers who is also an illustration, and who has come to understand the way to merge those two ideas together, so that the pictures are not just complementary tokens to the story. The illustrations are the story itself.

Or in this case, one of the stories. Here, in Wonderstruck, Selznick skillfully uses his line drawings to tell the tale of a deaf girl, and the pictures are like a silent movie unfolding on the pages. We don’t hear the sounds. We don’t hear any dialogue. We only see the world in a veil of silence, and through the eyes of the character. The effect is pure genius.

And then there is the other part of the story, as a young boy named Ben tries to find his father after his mother has died in a tragic car accident, and he too becomes deaf  (by a lightning strike). Using a museum as a setting for the middle of the novel, the two narratives of these characters in Wonderstruck slowly come together in a wonderful way, which I won’t give away here, except to say that the panoramic model of New York City is a delight to see, as are all of the hidden reasons for its importance.

I’d like to share this quote from the book:

“Ben remembering reading about curators in Wonderstruck, and thought about what it meant to curate your own life, as his dad had done here. What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house, and his books, and the secret room, he realized that he had already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonder.” (574)

Is there a better phrase than that? Maybe we are all cabinets of wonder? I love that idea.

Don’t be put off by the size of this book (630 pages) nor the price, and be sure to read through Selznick’s notes at the end of how he came to write this story and how he researched the elements. Just like the video that he made for Hugo Cabret in which he talks about how he made that book (which I show every year to my young writers), Selznick here pries open the veil of the writing and drawing process for the reader to see and understand.

Peace (in the wonder),


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