by Brian Selznick; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School Scholastic 640 pp.
9/11 978-0-545-02789-2 $29.99 g
With Wonderstruck’s opening wordless sequence of an approaching wolf, readers might think they’ve embarked upon a Gary Paulsen novel, but this is a story not of wilderness adventure but of two young people running — to New York City — for their lives. The pictures (pencil, double-page spread, wordless) follow a young girl, Rose, living in material comfort but also emotional distress in 1927 Hoboken; the text is set in 1977 in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters region, where a boy, Ben, struggles with the death of his mother and the loss of his hearing. Yes, Rose and Ben eventually meet, as do the text and pictures, but both stories are encumbered by the conclusion of the book, which, in resolving many themes and mysteries, dictates too much of what has gone before — it feels as if the narrative was composed backward rather than arising organically from its beginnings. For example, Rose’s childhood hobby of constructing model buildings from the pages of hated books doesn’t seem to follow from anything, but it does give her an adult career at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where Ben also finds himself after several similarly belabored circumstances. Still, there is much technical brilliance here, both in the segues between text and pictures and between the pictures themselves, as in a scene where Rose, locked in a room, seems to be contemplating the many photographs on a wall, but a page turn reveals that Rose has actually spotted a window — and escapes. While Ben’s story suffers from an excess of telling rather than showing, he (Rose, too) is openhearted and easy to love. The intricate puzzle-solving of the plot gets a generous and welcome shot of straightforward emotion when Ben is given an unabashedly romantic friendship with another boy, Jamie, with whom he experiences the wonders of the museum in secret and at night, a nod to E. L. Konigsburg that Selznick acknowledges in an informative closing note.
From the September/October 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.