It’s 1977, and Ben wonders about his father, whom he has never met. He lives with his aunt and uncle, longing for a piece of a home that no longer exists. When he finds a clue to his father’s identity and whereabouts amongst his mother’s things, nothing will stop him from running away to New York City to search for him himself. So with his mini cabinet of “wonders” Ben is off.
Meanwhile, fifty years earlier, Rose longs to meet a silent film actress whom she’s been following in the press. Although her story is told through pictures only, it’s obvious that there is a void in her life she is hoping to fill. With her scrapbook of news clippings in hand, Rose takes a parallel journey to the New York of the 1920s, just when the talkie film is about to hit the scene. How their stories eventually converge may leave you in awe…
As I look back on Brian Selznick’s second groundbreaking graphic novel, I am in awe. Selznick is even more ambitious here in everything he has chosen to tackle: two very different New Yorks (1927 and 1977), film history, natural museums, deaf culture, and so on. He has even been innovative with his format, interweaving two independent stories, one told with words (Ben) and the other told strictly in images (Rose). I love Ben and his “wonders” collected and curated from nature, each associated with an important memory. The ache he feels in his heart for his unknown father is palpable. Once you learn the real meaning and significance of what Rose is hoping to find in New York, you feel the pain of her void as well. It is the deep roots of family and belonging which make Wonderstruck all the more emotionally resonant. As with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this sophomore effort is just as well-researched. I particularly appreciated the history of natural museums and the glimpse at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. While there is a lot of different topics and issues at hand making Wonderstruck more complex, and perhaps more messy, than its predecessor, I enjoyed the experience of reading it just as much. What has (and will) stick with me is the thrilling experience of discovering how their lives converge, which is not straight forward or easy to predict, and Rose’s “silent” story. Sometimes pictures do speak louder than words.
Note: Be sure not to miss the thoughtful acknowledgments and selected bibliography sections at the back of the book, which offer informative and fascinating glimpses into Selznick’s research and writing process.