Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

wonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: September 13th, 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Pages: 640 pages

Source: Library

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

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.

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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.

 

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

themarvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: September 15th, 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Pages: 665 pages

Source: Library

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

The Marvels was an absolutely beautiful gem of a novel that ended up taking me completely by surprise in all the best ways. An intriguing, thought-provoking, and magical tale full of unexpected twists and turns, it captivated me from page one. I am a massive fan of Brian Selznick’s work and have read both of his other novels, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. His stories, and the way he tells them with alternating pictures and text, are incredibly unique and gorgeous pieces of art. And though I utterly adored both of the others, The Marvels has surpassed them all.

The format of this novel was quite different from the previous ones. The others had alternating drawings and text, where the drawings either continued where the text left off or told a story in themselves that intertwined with the written story by the end. In The Marvels, Selznick tells two separate stories that take place multiple centuries apart. He begins with nearly four hundred pages of drawings telling one story, followed by two hundred pages of text telling the other. Though this strayed from his usual layout, it served to make the novel even more powerful as a whole.

I was worried at first about the picture aspect of it not being interspersed with text, feeling like it might end up being a bit confusing. However, this was not at all the case, and it was as equally coherent and as emotionally powerful an experience as the actual text itself. There is something very cinematic about that portion, very much like watching a silent film, which tied in brilliantly with the focus on acting and literature in the plot.

This novel is packed with a well-portrayed and memorable cast of characters, all of who are very easy to connect with and feel for. In just a short amount of time, I felt that I had become very attached to them, and was eager to find out how things turned out. This is also a very intelligent read, filled with references to theater and great works of literature, primarily works by Shakespeare and Yeats. A major theme of this novel is how life inspires art, and how art can make aspects of life a bit clearer to us all.

The visual portion of the novel tells the story of a family of actors growing up in the theater and on stage between 1766 and 1900. The text portion begins in 1990, and tells of a young boy named Joseph Jervis, a lover of fiction who is searching for his own real life adventure. Joseph runs away from boarding school to London in order to visit his uncle, Albert Nightingale whom he has never met, and request his help in locating his best friend. When he arrives, he is transported back in time by stepping into the house of a man who lives as if he is from the 1800s. The adventure begins, as Joseph attempts to piece together his family history and see why his uncle is living in such a way.

Going in, I did not know very much at all about this story aside from the relatively vague synopsis provided, and this turned out to be the absolute best way to read it. I was incredibly surprised by the twists and revelations in the plot, and that kept me on the edge of my seat, intrigued to find out the answers to the many mysteries.

This is not a good vs. evil story, not a story with any sort of antagonist. It is a story of people finding their place in the world, writing the story of their own lives and their own futures. It is about love, acceptance, and learning to be patient, with others and with life itself. Most importantly, it is about seeing; looking deeper into a world, fictional or factual, and perceiving that which matters the most.

Selznick sends the reader on a journey of their own, opening a door into the past and inspiring them to take each new fact they learn and explore what they see to decipher the mystery of how the two narratives relate to each other. All of his novels have a winning combination of stunning artwork and skillful writing. He is a magnificent storyteller through both words and images. The drawings allowed me to become fully submersed in the story and the world right from the start. I felt completely transported back in time, and his spot on descriptions of Albert Nightingale’s house made me occasionally forget that we were in the 1990s and not actually the late 1800s.

The pairing of these two mediums, as well as how he weaved the two tales together, made for a thoroughly rich and memorable experience. The story itself and the distinctive way that it is told makes this novel unlike anything I have ever read before. Through his novels, he has created a style that fully immerses the reader in the lives of his characters, and this fresh take on his usual format makes that experience all the more vivid. It was a stunning and breathtaking work, one that fits its title well. This was a truly wonderful journey.

“Aus Visum Aut Non. You either see it or you don’t.”

4.5 TARDISes

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