Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick


To begin with a disclaimer: this isn’t a sequel to The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I thought it was when I first checked it out of the library, and so began slightly disappointed, but realized this isn’t the problem it might be…especially since I haven’t much cared for many of the sequels I’ve read previously. Rather it’s two stories woven together–one in text and one illustrated–which converge gradually, both physically and literarily, until the two have combined to be told in intermingled text and illustrations, just as The Invention of Hugo Cabret was.

Ben’s story, set in 1977, begins a few months after his mother’s death. He is living with his aunt and uncle and their children, while the adults decide what to do with his mother’s estate. Still desperately missing his mother, a single parent and the only one he’s ever known, Ben sneaks off to the cabin where they’d lived until her death, where he’s struck by lightning while on the phone. Already deaf in one ear, the lightning causes Ben to lose the hearing in his good ear, and he is rushed to the hospital in Duluth. Ben flees from the hospital to New York in search of the man he believes to be his father, with only an address jotted on a bookmark for the bookstore where he thinks his father worked…and not only has the current tenant of the apartment no knowledge of Daniel, the bookstore’s long closed.

He ends up hiding out in the American Museum of Natural History, having been smuggled into a dustily unused storeroom for past exhibits by a boy his age. After several days, the friend finally (re)reveals that the bookstore is not closed but moved…

Rose, completely deaf since infancy, is in Hoboken in 1927, living with her father after her parents’ scandalous divorce–people just didn’t DO that then!–but runs away to New York when she discovers her mother is performing on stage there. Her mother is horrified and furious; Rose flees from the theater where her mother’s performing to the American Museum of Natural History. She’s about to be thrown out when one of the docents recognizes her; he is her brother, Walter, who not only takes her in but insists, when their parents find out where Rose has gone, that Rose is to stay in New York with him. He finds her a school for the deaf, where she not only (at last!) get an education both good and appropriate but also meets the boy she later marries, Bill. She and Bill have one child, Daniel, who grows up to become a curator at the AMNH; he meets Ben’s mother during the course of researching a wolf diorama…

…and it is here that the stories converge. Yes, Rose is Ben’s grandmother, wondering about whether Ben was her son’s child even as Ben was wondering about his father. The book ends before the story concludes–does Ben stay in New York or go back to Wisconsin?–but they’ve found the family they wanted. And Ben and Jamie have found a friend in one another.

I must admit that I didn’t much care for the alternation of illustrations with text in The Invention of Hugo Cabret; though the illustrations were great and furthered the storyline, I always felt a bit discombobulated when Selznick switched from one to the other. Here, it makes much more sense (at least to me) as not only does it allow Selznick to tell two stories in one while minimizing awkward disjoints when switching between the two, but (please don’t laugh), the silent illustrations made sense in the context of telling the story of someone who’s been deaf all their life. Yes, yes, I know: text doesn’t ‘talk’ either, but the illustrations absent any explanatory accompanying text somehow captured Rose’s sense of the world around herself, at least for me.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure what to suggest to read next, other than The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Any suggestions?

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