Ben lives alone at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, and has dreams of wolves, running with him, chasing him, but somehow he’s not terrified by them. He doesn’t really live alone, but he’s had to move in with his Aunt, Uncle and cousins since his mother died, and he never had a father. They try to be kind, but Ben really wants to go back to his own home, even though it’s empty. One night he does, and discovers some of his mother’s treasures, including a letter and a bookmark from a store in New York City, with a message that intrigues him. He tries to call the store, but is caught in a lightning storm, and his eardrum is blasted – and he could only hear out of that ear in the first place. It doesn’t take long for him to escape from the hospital and set off on a quest to find his father, for he’s convinced that is who wrote that note to meet his mother at the bookstore.
Meanwhile, in pictures (I don’t just mean pictures, I mean the most wonderful pencil illustrations I can admire and treasure ) we find Rose, a deaf girl hidden away by her parents, one of whom is a famous silent screen actress – yes we have shifted back a few years. Rose also rebels against captivity and escapes, only for her it is across Hoboken Sound rather than across half the country.
How their stories develop and eventually mingle is part of Wonderstruck, but it is so much more.
In many ways the stories are very simple. The way they are told and the presentation that mixes words and pictures, makes it deliciously complex. I love the detail, not only of the illustrations (ah! the museum exhibition, the skeletons, the cityscapes, the dioramas!) but of the small items that link one person’s life with another’s. If there really is such a model of the city in Queens Art Museum, I want to visit it. These descriptions gave me a tingle such as I haven’t felt from a book for years. So much to discover about the art of curating, it opened a whole new world to me – and I’ve seen the collection of insects behind the scenes at London’s Natural History Museum so I ought to be more aware.
The tingle extends to the concept of curating one’s own life. This has deep meaning and it’s something that perhaps everyone should give some thought to, if they haven’t already. Decluttering is one thing, but small items have meaning for who we are, where we have come from.
The theme of Deaf Culture also runs deeply through this book. I’ve known deaf people all my life, yet it was only when I read Wrinkle in Time that I considered the issue of perceptions of a world if everyone is born deaf. In this book most of those we meet have had hearing at some stage, and I would argue that there is a difference, but the fact that deafness still puts up unseen barriers between people is something worth bringing forward for open discussion, and I think this book does an excellent job of raising awareness of many issues.
It’s not a perfect book, but it’s delightful and compelling, and I feel richer for the experience of reading it, as will children of all ages, deaf or hearing.
I bought this book (in hardback for £6, normal price £11.24) because Goodreads’ GMGR had it as their book for October, and it looked fascinating. It is!