Rummanah Aasi
  Brian Selznick continues to blend in genres and narrative styles. In 2007 his groundbreaking pictures-and-text format stunned the children's book world and its readers when he released his Caldecott winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. When I heard he was working on a similar project with Wonderstruck, I was very excited to see what this author comes up with next.

Description (from Good Reads): Set fifty years apart, two independent stories—Ben's told in words and Rose's in pictures—weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.
   Ever since his mom died, Ben feels lost. At home with her father, Rose feels alone. He is searching for someone, but he is not sure who. She is searching for something, but she is not sure what. When Ben finds a mysterious clue hidden in his mom's room and when a tempting opportunity presents itself to Rose, both children risk everything to find what's missing.

Review:  Brian Selznick has done it again. Instead of returning to the regular picture book format which is mostly known for, he replicates his words and pictures storytelling format of Hugo. Most readers will jump on the chance to compare Hugo with Wonderstruck, but I really don't think they are easily comparable. Both stories have different tones and stand on their own right. In fact, I think Wonderstruck is a much riskier book because it weaves two parallel stories that allow us to become more emotionally involved with its characters. 
  Like its predecessor, Wonderstruck is also self-described as a "novel in words and pictures." The book opens with a cinematic, multi-page, wordless black-and-white sequence: Two wolves lope through a wooded landscape. We follow the illustrator's "camera" as it zooms in to the eye of one wolf until we are lost in its pupil. The scene changes abruptly, to Gunflint Lake, Minn., in 1977. Prose describes how Ben Wilson wakes from a nightmare about wolves who he believes is chasing him. He has orphan for three months living with his aunt and cousins after his mother's untimely death in a car accident. He never knew his father. Ben's sense of loneliness is suddenly interwoven with a crosshatched black-and-white drawings of a lonely girl named Rose in Hoboken, NJ in 1927.  This sequence of words and drawing are now a trademark for this author. We know that the two stories will converge, but Selznick keeps them guessing about the connection between these two characters, cutting back and forth with expert precision and thus creating a satisfying mystery to solve.
  Both Ben and Rose leave their unhappy homes and head to New York City, but for different reasons or at least when seems to be different. Ben is hoping to find his father after receiving a pertinent clue about his possible whereabouts. Rose is also in search of family. We learn clues about both characters as we join them on their journey.
  The words and pictures format is not a gimmick, but used for a purpose. Rose, readers learn, is deaf, which is why her her silent world is brilliantly evoked in wordless sequences. The wordless sequences allow us to become Rose. Through her longing eyes, we feel her loneliness and her frustration with finding a way to communicate is tangible. Ben's story unfolds in prose. Both stories are equally absorbing, complex, and impeccably paced. Though they could have stand on their own, there are just too many details left out of them. I love how the two threads come together at the American Museum of Natural History. As the conclusion unfolds, I couldn't help but get teary eyed. While Hugo enlightened us about the excitement of the era of silent movies, Wonderstruck shows us how thrilling a museum can be. Visually stunning and aptly named, Wonderstruck is a definitely a wonder to behold regardless of its weight and tome-like appearance.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, or The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
8 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I'm so out of the loop. I hadn't heard much about Hugo, but then this book was crazy coveted at BEA and I had absolutely no idea why. Maybe I need to read and find out:) Love that Rose's story is in pictures, what a unique way of getting us to understand what it's like to be her. Brilliant review Rummanah!

  2. I've never heard of this series. but it sounds wonderful. I'm going to have to tell my mom about it, too. She's a 5th grade teacher and always looking for appropriate material. The pictures sound like an amazing part of the story. I'm seriously enthralled with your review. I want to check this book out really bad to see what it's all about!

    In the Closet With a Bibliophile

  3. danya Says:

    Interweaving and converging storylines, when done well, can be very cool...but they are tricky! Sounds like he does an excellent job here. Just curious - did the transitions between the two narrative feel abrupt/jolting/confusing? Since there's a mystery element to how they are connected, I'd imagine they wouldn't be smooth exactly, but I'm wondering how much you noticed it as a reader :)

  4. Jenny: Thank you. :)

    Jen: It's not really a series. The format of his last two books are the same, but the stories are completely different. I loved both for different reasons and I think it would be great to use as a classroom discussion.

    Danya: You're right, the transitions weren't exact but I felt like it happened at the right moment i.e. if the two characters are going through the same emotion or action. It's kinda like saying meanwhile Ben is doing this, Rose is doing that. Except the transitions aren't written in words. Does that make sense?

  5. Everyone seems to rave about this. I still need to read his earlier book. I particularly like that this is set in Minnesota, at least partially. I miss my adopted home state.

    Complete subject change - Are there any YA novels with Pakistani main characters? I can think of a few Indian MCs, but not Pakistani.

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I can't wait for WONDERSTRUCK to make it to our library. We were a bit iffy about getting it. Our kids loved HUGO but we were a bit worried that the interwoven story might be too difficult for our 4th-5th graders, especially since we're an international school and English is a second language for many of our students. I like Selznick's work and believe the story will be structured in a way to make it accessible to our kids.

    @ Jenny - read HUGO, it's wonderful!

  7. Brian Selznick is a new-to-me author, and obviously I've been missing out. I just can't get myself to take the time to read MG books when I have so much to catch up on with YA and Adult. LOL

  8. Alison: "Hugo" is wonderful and I'm excited for the movie coming out in December.

    Jennifer: I don't think you're students would have a hard time with this one. I love just how easily he blends the word less pictures with the simple prose. It's definitely a work of art.

    Missie: I know. I need to take a break from the adult and YA books I read once in a while. :)

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