four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-WonderstruckBrian Selznick's Caldecott winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007) stunned critics with its story and intricate drawings. Wonderstruck, for ages nine and up, more than lives up to its predecessor.

The Story: In 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, the newly orphaned Ben Wilson goes to live with his aunt and uncle. He soon stumbles upon clues that suggest he has an unknown father living in New York City. When an accident renders him deaf, Ben sets out to find him. Juxtaposed with Ben's story is that of a young girl, Rose, told only through black and white pictures. Her story opens in 1927 in Hoboken, New Jersey, when she is a small, lonely girl sitting at a desk with a note with the words "Help Me" written on it. Feeling like a prisoner in her own home, Rose, too, sets out for the big city to find a mysterious Broadway star. Both Ben and Rose end up in the American Museum of Natural History, and their perilous quests, begun 50 years apart, magically entangle and merge on the night of the New York City blackout of 1977.
Scholastic Press. 637 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780545027892

Brain Pickings 4.5 of 5 Stars
"But this is no ordinary 12-page children's book--like Selznick's previous tome, the mesmerizing 600-page volume weighs in at nearly three pounds and features hundreds of his original illustrations, whose intricate details exude incredible thoughtfulness and truthfulness to the era, bound to leave any adult, indeed, wonderstruck. ... Absolutely beautiful and full of fascinating detail, Wonderstruck is a living testament to all that makes books--and their creators--so very special, and a true artifact of human creativity and curiosity." Maria Popova

School Library Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The art is just as beautiful as Cabret's, the plotting superior, and the writing not just good, but fantastic. Where Cabret wowed readers with spectacle, Wonderstruck hits ‘em where it hurts. Right in the heart. For once, we're dealing with a book that is actually worth its own hype."

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"With this superb illustrated novel, Brian Selznick proves to be that rare creator capable of following one masterpiece ... with another even more brilliantly executed. ... Selznick deftly builds a sense of continuity and suspense by juxtaposing words against pictures and vice versa. The two stories intersect in a poignant climax that will be deeply satisfying to readers." Mary Quattlebaum

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Throughout, Selznick's eye for the details of New York's enchanted places--the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, Times Square in the 1920s and the too easily forgotten marvel of the City Panorama at the Queens Museum of Art--are pitch, or rather picture, perfect. ... Selznick's gift is for the uncanny and the haunting, and his subject is not only the strange poetry of ordinary things but the poetry of things from another time: train stations, frozen museum dioramas and old bookstores. Small bells ring at midnight, and mute protagonists embrace in darkness." Adam Gopnik

NPR 4 of 5 Stars
"Once again, Selznick alternates text with pencil illustrations; this time the text tells one story while the pictures tell another, though at the end the stories intersect nicely. ... The climax of Wonderstruck may strike adult readers as a bit unsurprising--secrets are revealed, stories come together, and lightning strikes--but for youngsters who don't know, for example, what happened in New York on July 13, 1977, the book's ending will feel quietly revelatory." Dan Kois

Critical Summary

Wonderstruck left critics feeling quite amazed that Brian Selznick could pull off a feat rivaling The Invention of Hugo Cabret. While the juxtaposition of Ben's written narrative with Rose's visual one could have created some disjunction, it instead seamlessly blurs together two arresting, thoughtful stories that touch on multiple topics--from deaf culture to the history of the museum (indeed, in the latter, the book is reminiscent of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). If Ben is "rather routinely imagined" (New York Times Book Review) and the climax may come as no shock for those familiar with New York City's history (NPR), children and adults alike will revel in this brilliantly imagined and executed work. A well-deserved 4.5 stars, not lightly given.