I had the good fortune to read two wonderful books recently: Holes by Louis Sachar (which I had read once before) and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (which was new to me). The stories are completely different, but the books are similar in that they both involve a story of the past intersecting with one in the present. That is a hard thing to carry off, and both authors succeeded brilliantly.
Holes by Louis Sachar
In Holes, teenager Stanley Yelnats, whose name is the same forwards as backwards, is convicted (wrongly) of a crime and sent to Camp Green Lake as a punishment. There’s no lake at Camp Green Lake. It’s dry, hot, and crawling with scorpions, rattlesnakes, and worst of all, yellow-spotted lizards. And at this terrible place, each “camper” must dig a hole, five feet high and five feet wide, every single day. In between scenes of Stanley learning to dig holes and getting to know the other people at the camp, we are told the stories of some of his ancestors. Their stories and Stanley’s eventually connect in an interesting way.
Holes is such a well-plotted book. Everything ties together, but it doesn’t feel forced. I also think it’s a very positive story. Other people complain about certain elements being unrealistic and others being overly violent. Obviously those people have never read fairy tales before! And that’s what Holes is, a modern fairy tale. I recommend it highly. However, since the main character is a teenager and there is violence, I’d classify the book as YA, just to be safe.
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
In Wonderstruck, the main character, Ben, has just lost his mother, and he’s unhappy living with his aunt and uncle. When he discovers tantalizing clues about his father, whom he has never met, he runs away to New York City to look for him. Interspersed with the Ben’s narrative (told in text) is the story of a deaf girl (told in pictures), and the book ends with the connection of the two story lines.
Wonderstruck is a big book. I’m not afraid of big books. Really, I’m not. But I have to admit that given how little time I have for reading, a long book is not likely to be my first choice. I’m glad I didn’t let the length scare me off. The story is actually short enough to read within a few hours. The pictures are what make it appear so long, and they don’t take a lot of time.
The pictures also make the book stand out. Parts of the story are depicted as scenes from a silent film. It’s not a style I’d want all books to follow, but it works beautifully in this particular case, because the story is about deaf people. As you watch the silent movie play, you get to feel just a tiny hint of what being deaf might be like.
I read some reviews in which people compared this book unfavorably with another Selznick work, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Having not read that book, perhaps I avoided some kind of prejudice toward Wonderstruck. All I can do is judge it on its own merits, and I think it’s great. It left me me feeling a bit wonderstruck myself. Many thanks to my friend, Sprite, for giving the book to me.
P.S. Because this book is so large, I recommend breaking it in before reading it. I didn’t, and that may be why the spine warped as I was reading. For those who don’t know how to break in a book, I found a nice explanation at Sophistimom.