Where do I begin? This book is amazing! All I can say is that this book left me feeling eponymously wonderstruck.
Wonderstruck tells the intertwined stories of two different children in two separate time periods. Ben is a young boy living in Minnesota in the seventies. He was born deaf in one ear. His mother died recently, and stays next-door with his aunt’s family. His partial deafness makes it difficult for his cousins to relate to him.
Ben never knew his father. On a dark, stormy night, he finds what he believes to be a clue among his mother’s belongings, a bookmark for a New York City bookstore, signed by a man named Daniel. Ben is determined to track down the clue’s source, and hopefully, in the process, his father. Just as he picks up the phone to call the number on the bookmark, the house is struck by lightning, which traveled up the phone wire, and Ben is rendered completely deaf from the shock. Ben, however, is undeterred by this new challenge, and sets out alone to New York. There, he finds his way to the American Museum of Natural history….
Rose’s story takes place in the twenties. Rose was born completely deaf, can’t speak, and communicates solely through writing notes. Her father doesn’t understand her, and her mother appears to be out of the picture. Rose is attempting to learn to communicate by more “conventional” means for deaf and mute people, but finds them to be restrictive and unnatural. After an argument with her father, Rose runs away to New York City, in search of solace. She finds her way to the same museum, back when some of the most captivating exhibits were being constructed….
Over time, the reader begins to see how Rose’s and Ben’s stories parallel each other and intertwine, and the end result is just so heartwarming and bittersweet. You have to read this to find out – trust me, you won’t regret it.
Like The Invention of Hugo Cabret before it, Wonderstruck is told partially in pictures, and partially in text. Ben’s story is told primarily through the written word. Rose’s story is told primarily through full-page illustrations.
Every little detail on the page conveys Rose’s thoughts and emotions – and that’s hard enough to do with words alone. Her visual story was depicted with equal clarity to that of Ben’s textual one, which was amazing.
One of the most powerful, profound scenes, for me, is when Rose discovers her favorite silent movie theater is being renovated to play “talkies.” Until now, Rose was able to enjoy movies at the theater just like everyone else. We see her pained expression as she reads the announcement, while off to the side, workmen are carrying in crates of parts for the theater’s new sound system. As someone who’s quite spoiled by today’s theaters’ surround-sound and 4D visuals, I’d had a hard time appreciating the magic of silent film until this point. Come to think of it, the pictures feel like watching a silent film.
Through the story, I learned a lot about deaf culture and the challenges faced by so many people who cannot hear sound, yet perceive so much.
Brian Selznick’s books are like picture books for big kids, and with each reread, I notice something more in the illustrations and gain more insight into the story. These books aren’t meant to be read only once. With each new volume, Mr. Selznick fine-tunes his command of this revolutionary art medium. There is an excellent balance between artwork and text, and together, they tell thousands of beautiful words.
And now for the content advisory stuff:
It is implicit that Ben, who never knew his father, was conceived and born out of wedlock by two consenting adults, which some may consider immoral . Truthfully, that’s the only thing I found in this book that could potentially offend conscientious readers.