Sunday, September 18, 2011

REVIEW: Wonderstruck (I wasn't struck)

Selznick, B.  (2011).  Wonderstruck.  New York:  Scholastic Press.

629 pages.

Appetizer:  Set in Gunflint Lake, Minnesoa in 1977, Ben is missing his mother who recently died in a car accident.  During a stormy night he walks to his old home from his aunt's house.  Among his mother's stuff, he finds her rainy day fund and a book called Wonderstruck with a hand-written note that mentions a man named Danny and a bookstore bookmark of a store in New York City.  With these few clues, Ben hopes that he may finally find and know his father.  Just as he picks up the phone and try to call the number for the bookstore, lightning strikes the house and Ben's life is once again changed.

This picturebook/novel is also the story of a lonely girl named Rose in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927.  She admires an actress in a silent film named Lillian Mayhew.  After learning that Lillian will be in a play in New York City, Rose decides to run away to see her.

Both of their quests will take Rose and Ben to New York City and to the American Museum of Natural History.

Ben's story is told almost entirely in text and Rose's story is told almost entirely in illustrations.  Despite the differences in settings, there are moments when the tales connect and (eventually) unite.

When I began reading, I was frustrated because of the seemingly wide gaps between the two stories.  Initially only images like stars and lightning connect the two.  My brain was desperate for the two stories to unite.  Part of what made me fall totally and completely in love with Selznick's previous giant-picturebook/novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was the way the setting, medium and content all worked together to add meaning to the story.  By the third or fourth time that I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I was still finding new meanings and connections among the different aspects of the story.

I can't say the same will happen with Wonderstruck.

Don't get me wrong, this novel is still impressive.  It has a E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feel to it.  It just didn't *capture* me the way Selznick's Hugo Cabret did.

As a book, it does demonstrate a love of astronomy, dioramas, wolves, and museums, expresses a sense of loneliness and searching that I found very relatable and shows examples of the experience of being deaf in different times.

But still, Wonderstruck didn't capture my imagination or impress me the way The Invention of Hugo Cabret did.  (Not that books should always be compared.  But since these two stand alone in terms of their form, it's hard not to make comparisons.)

I'd be curious to know what some of you thought of the book, Few But Dear Readers.  Am I alone in my stance?

For the time being, here's one of the early moments when the stories overlap for you to enjoy.  Mary is watching a movie of a storm and Ben is in his mother's house, looking through her stuff as a storm approaches.  Enjoy.

(pp. 120-126)

Dinner Conversation:

"Something hit Ben Wilson and he hopened his eyes.  The wolves had been chasing him again and his heart was pounding.  He sat up in the dark room and rubbed his arm.  He picked up the shoe his cousin had thrown at him and dropped it on the floor.
"That hurt, Robby!" (p. 16).

"Ever since the accident, the wolves had appeared, galloping across the moonlit snow, red tongues wagging and white teeth glistening.  He couldn't figure out why they were stalking him, because he used to love wolves.  He and his mom had even seen one once from the front porch of their house.  The wolf had looked beautiful and mysterious, like it had stepped out of a storybook" (p. 17).

"He had believed his mother when she told him he'd never be lost as long as he could find the North Star.  But now that she was gone, he realized it wasn't true.
The mysterious quote from his mom's bulletin board echoed again in his mind.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" (p. 27).

"Was it days later or only a few minutes when his aunt Jenny appeared?  Her eyes were red and watery. She sat on the bed and stroked his hair.  He thought he could smell the food she'd been cooking at the lodge as she ran her fingers down his cheek just like his mom used to.  He watched her lips move.  He looked at the nurses talking to each other.  His head felt like it was full of leaves.  He opened his mouth to say he couldn't hear but nothing came out.
The nurse handed Aunt Jenny a piece of paper and a pen.  She wrote a note and handed it to Ben.
"I know you can't hear.  Don't try to talk.  Just lie still."
Ben's head throbbed.  How did she know what he'd been thinking?
"You've had an accident.  You're going to be okay, but you were hit by lightning." (p. 175)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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