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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: 'Wonderstruck'

Children's Fiction
September 2011
Scholastic Press
ISBN: 978-0-545-02789-2                                                     

Ben is a boy now living with his aunt, uncle and two cousins since his single mother died in an accident. His aunt and uncle talk about selling his mother's house next door on a Minnesota lakeshore. Lonely, he sneaks over to his old home one night when he sees a light. It's his cousin Janet, dressing in his mother's clothes and playing her old music. He talks his cousin into letting him stay in the house alone for a bit. Ben discovers a note in one of his mother's books that leads him to believe he might be able to talk to the father he's never met. Deaf in one ear, he dials the phone just as lightning strikes the house. He's now totally deaf. Ben is hospitalized, but sneaks out to take a bus to New York to see if he can find his father.

While this story in prose takes place in the 1970s, Selznick intersperses it with detailed drawings, in the same style as his Invention of Hugo Cabret, of a  young girl in the 1920s. She, too, is deaf and sneaks away from her house to watch a silent movie. The girl, Rose, runs away to take the ferry from Hoboken to New York City, where she tracks down the star of the silent movie to a stage, rehearsing a play. It's her mother, and she is ashamed of her deaf daughter.

The stories go back and forth until they converge in the unlikeliest of coincidences.

Selznick uses much exposition, including having characters write great portions of tell, not show, in bringing the characters together. Objects large and small, from a small carved turtle to the American Museum of Natural History and a diorama of wolves, figure in both characters' stories. The rest of the characters do important acts that help the two main characters without having their own stories explained or resolved. Janet, for example, is never seen again. A boy who helps Ben spend several nights at the museum has an unresolved story.

Wonderstruck is a high-concept project that doesn't quite mesh as a story, but rather wants attention paid to objects the author practically treats as sacred. Selznick's art is stunning but does not carry the story forward on its own. Even in the drawings, the characters write to each other to give the reader information and propel the story forward. Because of the young age of the characters, it is doubtful the book will find a large audience in secondary schools. Because of the size of the book, and the two stories in prose and pictures not meeting until several hundred pages have gone by, it may deter younger readers. It is probably most likely to find a home in elementary for advanced intermediate students, but is suitable for readers in grades 4 and up.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reposted with permission

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