Book Review: Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck“Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.”

As a devoted fan of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I had high expectations for this book. To be perfectly blunt, I was disappointed. It would be easy to make a pun about being not-so-wonderstruck after all. I’m going to try not to do that (although I kind of just did).

To be fair, the artwork is superb. Selznick is nothing short of extraordinary when it comes to telling a story in pictures. It’s just that the story itself was on the weak side here. Hugo worked because it was a great story that just so happened to be told primarily through well-crafted pictures. It would work just as well as a pure novel. But if you remove the artwork from Wonderstruck you have a pretty thin structure. All the emotional resonance comes from the awe-inspiring drawings of the Museum of Natural History, the former World’s Fair grounds in Queens, wolves, etc. Which is surprising, because one half of Wonderstruck’s narrative relies on words.

The story and characters definitely call back to Hugo as well. We have an orphaned boy on the run, encountering a girl who will assist him in his quest. There’s even an exploration of a forgotten piece of history. There are enough differences that it doesn’t feel like a retread per se–but I do feel it is worth noting.

I want to say that the illustrations make this book worth your while, but I’m not sure it would be fair to say that you wouldn’t get the full experience simply flipping through the book. As time passes since I finished the book it is the images that I recall most poignantly, which does not exactly reflect a good reading experience.

Grade: C

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