Brian Selznick. Wonderstruck. New York: Scholastic, 2011. 608 pages.
See also the BookPage review of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which describes Selznick’s early career and the inspiration for the novel’s unique style and structure.
He had me at the first David Bowie reference. But even without the “Space Oddity” lyrics, Wonderstruck would still be fantastic – it’s an ingeniously structured story that further develops Selznick’s signature form: the “novel in words and pictures.” Just like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck alternates between typical text-filled pages and cinematic black-and-white pencil drawings.
Whereas in Hugo Cabret the illustrations accompany the story’s present-time events, in Wonderstruck, the text primarily focuses on the present-time (1977) experience of twelve-year-old Ben Wilson, while the illustrations focus on the parallel story of twelve-year-old Rose Kincaid in 1927. And while the illustrations in Hugo Cabret give readers the feeling of watching an old black-and-white movie – reinforcing the story’s theme of early cinema – the illustrated scenes in Wonderstruck let the reader feel what it’s like to be deaf. Like certain characters in this novel, the reader must often use non-verbal clues to figure out what is happening in Rose’s scenes.
Then again, Wonderstruck shares many elements with Selznick’s former novel: the boy searching for some connection to a missing father, the book that helps him figure out his purpose, the secret room that keeps him safe for a while… Likewise, the illustrations in Wonderstruck have the same stylistic elements that helped enhance the mood of Hugo Cabret: the mix of rough and smooth textures, the use of shadow and light to create deeply expressive eyes and facial expressions, and the cinematic zooming-in and out. To these, Selznick adds bright auras around the characters of Wonderstruck to signify an important moment or revelation.
Overall, I felt that Wonderstruck had a more neatly structured and smoothly paced plot – even with the necessary moments of confusion – with a more understandable climax and resolution. I initially also felt that the illustrations were more integral to the story, but the BookPage review of Hugo Cabret (see above) gave me a better insight into the function and necessity of its illustrations.
In his Acknowledgements, Selznick names the following books as inspirations for his second novel:
E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
and Pam Conrad’s My Daniel and Call Me Ahnighito.