Ben read it out loud: “‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'”
Because his mom was the town librarian, Ben was used to being surrounded by quotes from books, many of which he didn’t fully understand. But this one struck him as particularly strange.
He thought about it for a moment, came up with nothing, then said, ‘What does that mean?”
His mom smiled and shrugged.
He was sure she knew exactly what it meant, but she liked him to figure out things for himself.
(from Wonderstruck, page 22)
Wonderstruck is a hefty book (637 pages), but it’s one of those books that you can’t stop reading once you’ve started, and before you know it, you’re done. It also helps that 460 of those pages are artwork, but these illustrations don’t just bring the story to life…they tell their own story.
In Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick deftly weaves together two stories about two children in different eras, both of whom feel lost in the world and set off on journeys to find themselves. It is 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, where a young boy, Ben, is grieving the death of his mother and confused by nightmares about wolves. Having never known his father, Ben feels alone in the world. All that he has is his memories of his mother and a museum box, his own “Cabinet of Wonders” in which he stores all the little trinkets that are precious to him. A book he discovers hidden among his mother’s things prompts him to run away to New York City, where he embarks on an adventure involving a book store and a museum.
Rose’s story takes place in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1927. Like Ben, Rose feels alone, cooped up in her room with no one to talk to, know one who understands her. A scrapbook of a famous actress prompts Rose to climb out her window and flee to New York City, where she goes on an adventure of her own to find the one person who will know what she needs.
The structure of Wonderstruck is what makes it a delightful book. The written narrative tells Ben’s story, while the illustrations show Rose’s. Selznick tells both stories simultaneously; moving between the two characters took a bit of getting used to, but soon The Girl and I were flying through the book. It’s amazing how much detail and emotion Selznick packs into the sketches and how we were able to get to know and understand Rose through pictures alone. We especially loved how the pictures told a story, that they weren’t simply pictures used to illustrated what had already been written.
We were both surprised by how deep Wonderstruck was, even though there were times that the writing fell a little flat and was more telling than showing. There were parts where The Girl said, “Um…we already know that!,” and we pretty much had the entire story figured out around the halfway mark — but that didn’t stop us from really enjoying it. There were so many things to talk about, like museums and what objects we would put into museums of our lives, loss and grief, how much we depend on speech to communicate with others and how isolated we would feel without that. Although Wonderstruck is geared toward children, adults can get a lot out of the book, too. I didn’t expect there to be so many layers to the two stories, and it was refreshing to take a break from the written narrative and let the illustrations take over.
Wonderstruck is our book club’s June pick, and we will be meeting tomorrow for the discussion, which will be led by The Girl (age 11). I can’t wait to see what she has planned for us! In the meantime, she managed to jot down a few initial thoughts about the book. She said she’s focused more of her energy on the book club discussion, and she’ll write up something for me to include next week when I post about the meeting.
The Girl’s thoughts:
*I’m really happy I read this book. I found it interesting; it really makes you think.
*The illustrations are wonderful. The pencil sketches were so vivid, you thought they were going to rub off.
*Some parts were kind of cheesy because they explained something in like two paragraphs that I already figured out in the first two sentences.
*I can’t decide if I like this book better than The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
*I think people of all ages would like this book.
*I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Stay tuned next week for our thoughts on the book club meeting!
Disclosure: I borrowed Wonderstruck from my daughter.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.