Wonderstruck Summary

Brian Selznick


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Wonderstruck Summary

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Wonderstruck (2011) by Brian Selznick, is, like his earlier best seller The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), told using both prose and illustration. Whereas The Invention of Hugo Cabret was told in prose and illustrations that complemented each other, Wonderstruck uses prose to tell one story and illustrations to tell another. Selznick uses this approach to tell Ben’s and Rose’s stories respectively, finally weaving them together at the end of the novel, in both plot and style.

The book opens with Ben’s story, which starts in a town called Gunflint Lake, Alabama. The year is 1977. Ben was born with a hearing impairment that leaves him deaf in one ear. He lost his mom—who was a librarian—when she was killed in a car crash. When the story finds him, he’s living with his aunt and uncle. Ben’s father has always been a mystery to him—one he’s always wanted to solve.

One day, he finds a book that belonged to his mother, called Wonderstruck, which contains a bookmark. On the bookmark are the words “Love, Danny.” Ben presumes that Danny is his father and when he finds a phone number on the bookmark, he calls it expecting to discover his dad. Unfortunately, at the same time he’s making this call, the house is hit by lightning. It travels through the wiring in the phone and causes Ben to go completely deaf.

Ben wakes up in a hospital bed. He doesn’t know where he is or why he’s there, but shortly after waking, he decides he’s going to run away. Ben eventually finds his way to New York City, and decides that the American Museum of Natural History is a good place to hide. While there, he meets Jamie. Jamie’s father works at the museum and Jamie takes Ben on tours throughout the building, including the back rooms. Jamie helps Ben hide in a storage room they discover, that’s currently out of use.

Still set on finding his dad, Ben leaves the museum in search of the bookstore advertized on the bookmark he found in his mother’s book. When he arrives at the bookstore, he meets Rose and together they try to discover the connection that exists between them.

Rose’s story begins fifty years earlier in 1927. Her story is told through Selznick’s illustrations. Like Ben, Rose is deaf, and so she doesn’t go toschool. Rather, a tutor visits her family home in Hoboken, New Jersey each day. Because she never gets to leave the house to meet and play with other children, Rose lives an unhappy and lonely life at home. To escape this, she flees to New York City—just like Ben. Unlike him, she’s searching for her idol, Lillian Mayhew, who is an actress.

Rose finds her way to the theater where Lillian is performing. After she sneaks in and is discovered by none other than Lillian herself, Rose learns that Lillian is actually her mother. Even though Rose insists she came to the city without any intention of finding her mother, as Rose thought she was her idol and not her mother, Lillian is furious at Rose’s appearance in New York.

Lillian locks Rose in her dressing room until she can find a way to send her back to Hoboken, but Rose escapes. Like Ben, fifty years in the future, Rose hides out at the American Museum of Natural History. While hiding there, her brother Walter finds her and brings her back to his apartment. Walter promises to speak to their parents on Rose’s behalf. Rose’s story fast-forwards at this point, to 1977, when her tale intersects with Ben’s.

As it turns out, Rose is Danny’s mother, and therefore Ben’s grandmother. Upon discovering this, Rose brings Ben to the Queens Museum of Art. There, she tells him her story, as well as the story of his parents. Ben learns how Danny and his mother met. Danny, unfortunately, died of heart failure. Rose shows Ben her creation for the 1964 World’s Fair, which took place in New York: a tiny yet detailed model of the city that she made by hand.

The book ends with the blackout of 1977. Rose and Ben look at the stars together while they await Walter, who comes to pick them up.

Selznick was inspired to write Wonderstruck after watching Through Deaf Eyes, a PBS documentary about deafness. After learning that deaf people have a heightened appreciation for visual stimuli, Selznick decided to present Rose’s story through illustrations. In October 2017, a film based on Wonderstruck was released starring Julianne Moore and directed by Todd Haynes. The screenplay was written by Selznick. In 2008, Selznick won the Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association. He’s also won the Texas Bluebonnet Award, the Christopher Award, and the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award.