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Review of The Marvels

The Marvels
by Brian Selznick; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    671 pp.
9/15    978-0-545-44868-0    $32.99

Selznick defined his own format with The Invention of Hugo Cabret (rev. 3/07) and Wonderstruck (rev. 9/11), and this book looks the same, on the outside. But Selznick has created something wholly different here, by introducing one entire narrative in images, followed by another in words, one encapsulating the other. Over the first almost-four-hundred pages, his black-and-white drawings tell a story that readers will gather quickly: there is a storm, a shipwreck, and a rescue in a theater; years pass, and a dynasty is born of sons of sons who love the stage and its stories. One child doesn’t fit the (theatrical) mold, and in a fateful night and a firestorm, the story abruptly ends. The next one starts, in text, in 1990. Joseph runs away from his boarding school to find the uncle he hardly knows, in London. Uncle Albert lives in a house that feels strangely from another time, where he seems to serve as caretaker for ghosts: no one else lives there, yet Joseph hears voices; Uncle Albert keeps fires burning in the fireplaces and the rooms’ furniture and belongings undisturbed. Unwelcome even here, Joseph struggles to understand his uncle and uncovers a truth that he didn’t expect, about true family, and true stories. While stilted in some written phrasing and dialogue, this book proves once again that Selznick is —
 regardless — a unique and masterful storyteller, and his story-inside-a-story unfolds an emotional narrative with a drama that will leave readers marveling.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is supervising librarian for children’s services at the Oakland Library in Oakland, California.

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