Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick features two deaf characters and their stories, one told entirely through gorgeous hand-drawn pictures, the other in prose. The pictures make the book very fat, which looks daunting on a shelf, but it only took me about three hours to read.
It is beautiful and sweet and heartwarming, and the type of book that is better to dive into knowing very little. I can say without spoilers that is one of the best books featuring a deaf character I have ever read. And not just one, but two deaf characters!
Honestly, I can’t think of any other books I’ve read with a deaf protagonist. I tend to stay away from “issue books” and contemporary novels, and disabled characters are not very prominent in sci-fi/fantasy novels. It was also nice to read a well-written MG* novel with a simple plot and complex, thought-provoking themes. I read it over Christmas break, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
~~~Minor Spoilers Ahead~~~
One of the things that I loved about this book was how Being Deaf was not The Main Problem of the book. It’s more about family and friendship and grief and self-discovery than it is about not being able to hear.
I also liked that learning sign language didn’t come easily to the characters, particularly Ben, just because he became deaf. I know from experience that it is not easy to learn a whole new language, especially ASL since it is so different from verbal languages and has its own syntax and grammar separate from other languages. It would have been easy for the author to have Ben instantly learn how to communicate perfectly with the hearing population, but Selznick takes the harder, more realistic route, which I really appreciated.
As for things I wasn’t a huge fan of, I did find that I had to employ suspension of disbelief a bit more than I would have liked during the book, particularly with how easily the characters could sneak around without getting caught, and the odds of all the characters intersecting how they did at the end seemed pretty low to me. But then again it wouldn’t make a very good story if everything was still confusing and inconclusive at the end, would it?
This book even made me get a bit misty-eyed at the end, which doesn’t happen often for me in books. Overall, this is a book that I will continue to think and reflect on for a long time, and I strongly recommend it to everyone. Especially those looking for a short read with a unique format and complex, realistic, and sweet characters.
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
*MG – Middle Grade. Typically features pre-teen characters, aimed at children aged 8-12 (ish). Think The Chronicles of Narnia and the first three Harry Potter books.