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Wonderstruck

by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2011

639 pages

When I was growing up, book fairs were one of my favorite things about school.

Every year, I waited with baited breath for those little catalogs to show up on our desks.  And though I never got to buy all the books I wanted (which was only every single one in the entire catalog), book-delivery day was as big as Christmas for me.

So you can imagine how excited I was when my daughter, who is in kindergarten, brought home a little note announcing family book fair night.

I didn’t really ask her if she wanted to go–and we got there early, like Black Friday shoppers (though I controlled myself enough to enter the school library in an orderly fashion).

I was halfway down the wall of displays when I saw it: Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick’s followup to his stunning hybrid graphic/text novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

If I hadn’t been conditioned into silence by a lifetime of library visits, I would have squealed out loud.  As it was, I grabbed for the book so, um, vigorously that it’s a good thing no one was standing between me and the shelf.

I didn’t buy Wonderstruck that night (I let my daughter spend all the money), but a quick skim was enough to send me straight to the public library’s “I want this book” list as soon as I got home.

And, once again, Selznick did not disappoint.  Wonderstruck is not a sequel to Hugo Cabret, but it is a worthy successor–and ideal fodder for this blog.

The book consists of two tales, initially told separately but later intertwined in a somewhat predictable but entirely elegant way.

For me, the inspiration is in the story of Rose, a 12-year-old living in 1920s New Jersey.

Born into a wealthy family, Rose is a deaf-mute whose parents confine her to the house and subject her to private lessons in speech and lip-reading.

Fed up with the isolation and shame, Rose runs away to New York City, where she moves in with her older brother.  She begins to make a new life for herself and, much later, helps another young runaway do the same.

Almost from her first appearance in the book, Rose inspired me with her uncompromising spirit.

She knows who she is and believes she has the right to be that person.  She won’t settle for anything different, or anything less, even through bewilderment, deep fear, and heartbreak.

And the story validates her difficult decisions.  Fifty years after her journey to New York, Rose is a confident, fulfilled woman.  She’s had a satisfying life, with no regrets.

When she meets runaway Ben, also deaf, she seizes the opportunity to pour that confidence and fulfillment into his life.

She opens her life to Ben so he can have a living, breathing example of the validity of pursing dreams and living to his full potential.

By sharing her story with him, she helps him find peace–with himself, with his history, and with the missing pieces of his life.

What a great message for girls: Define your identity from within, not from without–and be courageous yet vulnerable enough to show others your true self.

The reward? Not just fulfillment for your own life, but (even better) a connection to and legacy of inspiration for the next generation.

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