Sunday, January 22, 2012

YA Book Review: Wonderstruck

Alternating pages of wordless charcoal and pencil sketches with pages of text, Brian Selznick's YA novel Wonderstruck strikes all the right chords.  It is a book to safely place in your middle school classroom library.

Combining the classical appeal of the story of a young girl, Rose, journeying to New York City to see a starlet in the 1920s with the contemporary artist's hand of using imagery to tell a story, Sezlnick subtly tells one character's backstory in the format of a graphic novel.  Once Rose's story intersects with the the protagonist's arc, Ben, then both forms combine as well--graphic novel and the written word--into one plot.

Both main characters are deaf--both are driven to find a parent in NYC--both find each other without ever knowing the other existed.  Rose's mother, a famous actress in NYC, has no time for her daughter.  Ignoring her sign language lessons, Rose escapes her house in Hoboken to find her mother.  Ben, of the other hand, finds his way to NYC in part through his nightmares.  Early in the novel Ben believes the wolves in his dreams are chasing him--on the contrary, they are driving him, pushing him, calling to him of you will, to NYC to find his father.

Personally, I find a lot to like about this book on several levels:

a) We're a visual society and as digital reading and writing evolves we experience the continued premium placed on imagery as story teller, and the rise and respect of the graphic novel form--I think this emerging form is more encouraging to young people than anything else out there--I never had the opportunity to read books like this when I was 12 or 13...they just didn't exist.  How would my love of story telling and artistic curiosity have formed differently had I been exposed to these two forms together?  It just wasn't done...and taken seriously.

b) The simple, clean plot elevates the YA form--I've been reading a preponderance of YA novels containing smoking, cursing, sex, suicide, depression, and mental health issues...among other heavy was refreshing to read a YA novel that did not engage those often gritty and controversial subjects.

c) While the themes of parents abandoning the child for work, and what happens when a parent dies, both serious matters at their core, provide the backdrop of the novel neither drives the drives the certainly drives the curiosity and desires of both Rose and Ben and through the use of both imagery and language the theme of love rises above all else.

d) Finally, as a reader, you can't ignore the fact that the two protagonist's are deaf--it almost feels incredible to say that the use of deaf characters unique, but it is--I was brought back to the beautiful Carson McCullers novel The Heart is Lonely Hunter by Selzick's use of deaf characters with bold adolescents.

Appealing, charming, and technically inspiring, put Wonderstruck in your middle school classroom library.

Frederic Remington’s Moonlight, Wolf

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