When I first lifted this groaningly weighty tome, I cringed. Yes, the cover was mesmerising, as was the title – but my goodness me – did I really have three weeks to wade through this brick? No, I did not.
Just as I put the book to one side, I noticed the oddly-shaded page ends. Curiously, I opened the book right to a central page, and there I was – my feet swept away from underneath me and tumbling forward through the page, expedited into another time and place.
It was instant. I was struck.
Wonder Struck, by bestselling Caldecott-winning author Brian Selznick (of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame) is quite an extraordinary book. Comprising arguably 70 or even 80 per cent illustrations, this graphic novel come picture book come fiction novel is a feat in creativity. Striking pencil-sketched images and text tell a parallel journey between a half-deaf boy of the 1970s (Ben) and a deaf girl from the 1920s (Rose).
Ben has just lost his mother, and is pining for the father he never knew. He is living with his aunt when one dark and stormy night, he returns to his mother’s house to find a book with a curious inscription inside. He also discovers a book mark that quite possibility holds the key to finding his father. When he phones the number on the book mark, a lightning rod strikes the house, rendering the boy unconscious – and profoundly deaf.
Waking up in hospital, Ben soon plans an escape to New York, where he’s determined to pursue the search for his father – and where he uncovers extraordinary family links at the American Museum of Natural History.
Rose is the daughter of a famed movie star. Her profound deafness means she is relatively house-bound, and hardly ever sees her mother. She, too, escapes her miserable life and ends up in New York where a man named Walter takes her under his wing. But who is Walter? And moreover – what ties Rose and Ben together? And how can a fifty year separation bring them together?
This beautiful tale, told in two parts – the text talks of Ben, the images talk of Rose – is a delicately-penned story with an emotional ferocity that stuns. The blending of carefully plotted threads, images and divine historical and faunal referencing is a joy. Adults will swim in the heady detail and emotional swirl, children will be wide-eyed at the imagery and mind-challenging twists.
Enriching, clever, astonishing, and possessing the power to wrap you up snugly until the last page is turned, this film-like book renders the iPad useless.
Wonder Struck is published by Scholastic Press.