Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes
Date Published: September 13th, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 640 pages
Synopsis: Ben and Rose secretly wish for better lives. Ben longs for his unknown father. Rose scrapbooks a famous silent actress. When Ben finds clues and Rose reads enticing news, the children independently run to New York for what they are missing. Ben’s story in words, Rose’s in pictures, come together in deafness.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Brian Selznick is a complete master of his craft—of turning the experience of reading a traditional novel into something so much more unique and powerful. This story is a particularly intense and utterly enthralling demonstration of that. Selznick’s novels take the reader on an adventure of the senses, producing a sort of “silent film” effect in novel form, which works on so many levels here. The style that he has chosen to use in order to unfold and bring together these two character’s lives is an absolutely brilliant one, and once again, I must complement his boundless creativity.
In Wonderstruck, Selznick alternates between the lives of two children—Ben Wilson, whose story is told solely through text, and Rose Kincaid, who is portrayed entirely in illustrations. Rose’s story takes place in the 1920s, while Ben’s is in the 1970s, but the many ways in which their lives tie together throughout the novel is mesmerizing. Each tale twists into the other, revealing piece after piece of the plot in turn as they weave toward the end. This technique creates a very fast-pace that carries the reader over the pages, holding onto them until the final image.
The main aspect of this novel that makes the alternation between text and image especially powerful is the overarching theme of deafness and silence. Ben is deaf in one ear, while Rose is completely deaf, making her story perfect for recounting through images rather than text. Rose becomes enamored by silent films and their actors as she lives alone within her own personal silence. Ben is on his own, in mourning for his mother. Both children are trying to find better lives for themselves, and end up discovering a mutual home in the comfort of a museum, another hall of silent stories. The full importance of this theme to each character’s life and the overall tone of the novel becomes magnified through the art of wordless storytelling.
With lyrical prose and expressive sketches, Wonderstruck is classic Brian Selznick material. He expertly plots out the progression of both storylines so that the juxtaposition of the illustrations and the text lines up to fully bring the setting to life, even with the difference in time period. Each progression in one story layers more intrigue onto the other, building and entwining, not missing a step, until the most important connection is revealed at the climax.
Selznick has a very singular art style that might not appeal to everyone, but I personally love it. His work has the feel of quick, casual scribbling—a bit rough, yet packed with so much intricate detail. It works well with the text, producing the same voice in an extremely different sort of narrative. Overall, he performs multiple artistic roles at the same time with an equal amount of competence, creating an imaginative and unified piece. Neither the text nor the art suffers for or at any time feels eclipsed by the other—he skillfully achieves a solid balance between the two.
This novel is another incredibly masterful piece of art produced by an extraordinarily talented man. It is one of those books that everyone will thoroughly enjoy, no matter what age they are. Using both text and illustration, Brian Selznick perfectly demonstrates multiple methods that humans can use to paint a picture for an audience—an audience that he effortlessly captivates. Time and time again, he shows that he knows exactly how to interlace the two mediums fluidly so that one builds on rather than overpowers the other. I found Wonderstruck to be a particularly strong example of this style of his—a story that it truly enriches the meaning of—and I highly recommend giving it a read.