the marvels by brian selznick
I was sent an ARC copy of this book by the publisher in an exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
Description: Stand-alone, middle grade contemporary/mystery novel
Release Date: September 15, 2015 by Scholastic, Inc.
First Line: Joseph was lost.
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Cover Review: This cover is stunning, which doesn’t surprise me, because generally “stunning” is a word that can sum up Brian Selznick’s work. It’s even more beautiful in real life because the mustard yellow color you see in the picture is actually shimmery gold in real life. Also, though the books aren’t connected, the spine of this book matches the spine of Selznick’s other two books, so if you own the whole collection these books are going to look pretty darn cool on your shelf.
synopsis (taken from BARNES AND NOBLE)
In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories-the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose-create a beguiling narrative puzzle.
The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage.
Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.
A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect,The Marvels is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.
PROS & CONS
This book is stunning. Everything about it is beautiful – the cover, the pictures, the writing. It’s made with the super high-quality paper, which is also the reason why it weighs, like, twenty pounds. You could honestly use it as a bowling ball except for the fact that it wouldn’t roll very well due to its rectangular-ness in nature and why would you want to use such a gorgeous book as a bowling ball?
As you learn in the synopsis, the book opens up with about four hundred pages. Well over half of this book is told in pictures, to the point where that first line I gave you above (“Joseph was lost.”) is not in the book until page 392.
I absolutely loved the story that was told entirely in pictures. I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret in elementary school and I remember being kind of confused by the pictures, and never entirely sure what was going on. I didn’t feel that at all through the hundreds of pages of pictures that opens up this book. The story was beautiful and simple and I loved it. It basically follows the Marvel family throughout many generations and explores their success as actors and actresses. You wouldn’t think that you’d get very connected to characters just throughout four hundred pages of pictures about them, but I certainly did. By the end of this section of the book I was dying to know what happened next.
The next section is completely text, and lasts approximately 200 pages, from page 392 to 603. This part follows Joseph who runs away from his boarding school to go and find his Uncle Albert. It turns out that his Uncle Albert is a pretty strange man and lives in an eccentric old house. Joseph realizes that this house potentially holds many secrets from his ancestors that might help him figure out where he fits in within his family.
The last fifty pages or so wrap-up in beautiful pictures once again, delivering a satisfying conclusion to the book. Overall, I really enjoyed the premise and the lessons that can be learned from this book. There were a ton of incredibly well thought out scenes that induced lots of “aha!” moments, which are always really fun. I teared up a little bit at some parts and there were some themes in this book (that I won’t specifically name, for the sake of not giving away spoilers) that you don’t typically find in middle grade stories, which was refreshing and added even more uniqueness to the book. The resolution to the mystery definitely caught me be surprise. At first it seemed sort of anti-climactic, but as more backstory was given I fell in love with the idea. There were some elements that I predicted would happen before they did, but nothing too major.
However, I did have some issues with the book. The entire character of “Blink” confused me a little bit. I think all of my questions were cleared up by the end, but his character seemed too vague for my likings. Sometimes characters like Blink can add to the beauty of the story, where you really have to interpret what they are bringing to the story for yourself, but I was just left a little troubled, trying to figure out where he fit in. During a large section he just seemed a little neglected, and was hardly mentioned, and then in the next he would be the focus again. I needed more Blink.
My second and last issue was the fact that Joseph took the role of Captain Obvious a few too many times. Since this book is kind of a mystery, the reader is challenged to figure out what was going on along with and maybe even before the protagonist. It was hard to enjoy the moments when pieces started falling into place and everything was coming together when Joseph would suddenly be making exclamations stating exactly what you had just figured out. Just let it happen, Joseph. Your insight is a bit too late now.
I went into this book pretty much blind, trusting that I would enjoy it because it is Brian Selznick. Surprise, surprise: I did enjoy it! The writing is so simple yet beautiful, and though you’re only really getting about 200 pages of actual text with these characters, they feel so real! I would highly recommend picking this up if you’re a fan of Selznick’s other books – it doesn’t disappoint. If you have yet to read one of his books (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, or this one), why not start here? It’s a quick and super fun read that also packs a powerful punch.