Now, if you read my first news update post, you’d likely see this coming. If not, then it’s either one of several options: A) You’re not an in-the-flesh Sammwak subscriber, B) You’re one of those people who have on/off subscriptions, C) You likely leafed through the post and ignored all the vital detail down to the jump, and/or D) You don’t have the most elaborate memory around. But either way, come one, come all, because one size fits all of you right? Anyway, you may have seen my review for Hugo Cabret back at 2S2M, and although I won’t spoil the results to novice viewers, it was probably a book I’ll never forget. And when I found Wonderstruck in a story that you’re gonna have to find in the news update, I was immediately hooked after further research. And it’s all led me to this tiny wrinkle in time–a review that’s hopefully as groundbreaking as the book itself.
What I consider to be the spiritual successor of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck is probably one of the most clever titles Brian Selznick’s worked on as a solo artist. Well, considering this is his fifth one. Anyway, what makes Wonderstruck unique from Hugo Cabret is that–besides it being 75 pages longer, and contending for both a Newbery and Caldecott–it doesn’t just revolve around one storyline–it intertwines two. One story takes place at Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in summer 1977, revolving around Ben Wilson, a young partly-deaf boy that’s just shaken off the death of his mother/the town librarian. He now lives with his aunt and uncle near the house he grew up in, and is now trying to solve the mystery of his father’s identity. You see, Ben never really knew his dad, but feels a pull to uncover him. Ben discovers a bookmark in one of his mom’s books–coincidentally titled Wonderstruck–and finds an inscribing dedicated to his mother ending with “Love, Danny”. Believing that this Danny is the Mr. Wilson, Ben attempts to call the number on the bookmark–just as lightning hits his house and travels through the phone line to his good ear. Now 100% deaf, Ben flees from his hospital and to NYC, meeting a girl named Jamie at the American Museum of Natural History. She claims to be a worker’s daughter as well, and gives him a short tour and smuggles him in a storage room. Despite Jamie’s compassion, Ben decides to keep pursuing the mystery of his father, and on the way he meets Rose. Just to inform you, this story is told entirely in words, like a regular book would.
Rose’s story, however, takes place fifty years before this in fall 1927, and is told entirely in pictures. In Hoboken, New Jersey, Rose is kept in her home with frequent visits from a tutor. No, she isn’t falling behind in school–coincidentally, she too is deaf. Unsatisfied with her life, she runs off to–you guessed it–NYC, to see her idol Lillian Mayhew. (She’s fictitious, just to set the record.) At the theater where Lillian is performing, Rose sneaks in but quickly loses her stealth as she is caught by Lillian. This is when the first twist of the story is revealed–Rose is actually Lillian’s daughter. Conversing through writing, Lillian threatens to send Rose back to her dad, so she continues to flee. This time she goes to–you guessed it again–the American Museum of Natural History! She is found by one of the workers, named Walter, who is actually her brother, whom promises to speak with her parents at his apartment. At this point, Rose’s story flash-forwards fifty years into the future, so she is now an old woman entering a 1977 bookstore. At this point, Ben and Rose finally meet. A very shocking twist is revealed at this point, but I’ll save that until you read the book…
Wonderstruck is a very brilliantly executed, charming, imaginative, and truly magical Selznick title, making the best use of Selznick’s eye-popping illustration I’ve seen to date. It was one of my most engrossing and impressive reads of the month, that does a surprising job of keeping us rooting for Ben and Rose. But although it didn’t show as much flourish and flair as Hugo–and it went by very quickly without letting much details soak in–but Wonderstruck is probably one of the best books I’ve seen from Selznick to date. Chart, please.
4 out of 5 – Educational value – As a good chunk of the book happens at the American Museum of Natural History, but for many other reasons as well, Wonderstruck sparks engaging wonders for exploring places and things from NYC to the nearest few natural history museums to the deaf culture. (A) That does exist, and B) That’s why you may have seen the word as “Deaf”.) All these trailheads can lead to your own adventures that can leave you wonderstruck.
5 out of 5 – Positive messages – Wonderstruck has one major message that is greatly emphasized through the book: blood is thicker than water. What this means is the family bond outdoes any other bond, and the book teaches us about family and friendship, plus its endurance through time and space. The adventures Rose and Ben embark on after becoming runaways are profitably more than what an average-minded youngen would imagine today. And Brian Selznick greatly culminates the message with the grand twist near the end of the book…
1 out of 5 – Positive role models – Like in the positive message section, Wonderstruck exemplifies loving family and true friends, and shows how a strong-enough bond can overcome any difficulty, danger, or trial. While Ben and Rose show relations to many of these gallant figures–Rose’s brother Walter (“an especially shining example”, according to Common Sense), Ben’s late mother (“just the parent [Ben] needed”, according to Common Sense), among others–they themselves show devotion to everyone who is crucial to them. Their journeys to define themselves and where they belong on Earth also flares their wisdom, tenacity, and focus–which, coincidentally, is the name of Vanilla Ice’s latest album.
4 out of 5 – Ease of read – Wonderstruck is a great spiritual successor to Hugo, using the same magical talents, eye-popping and rather well-accompanying visuals, and heartfelt storyline and effects that made it a Caldecott-winning hit. What separates Wonderstruck so much from its spiritual predecessor is that it seemed to slip on a banana peel many books have slipped on–going by without letting details soak in, and having a truly rough time juggling its elements. The illustrations may make you say otherwise, but in actuality it’s a struggle. Overall, a great book for those who adored Hugo.
2 out of 5 – Violence – It happens rather suddenly when Ben is “struck by lightning” and loses his remaining hearing. Rose also sees a silent film, with the book primarily capturing the essence of a storm scene, and this is greatly and ominously intertwined with Ben’s story. Ben also has his money robbed nearly as soon as he arrives as well. Not much violence, otherwise–also another contrast from Hugo.
1 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – Rose’s mom–again, Lillian Mayhew–is a scandalous 1920’s figure, having divorced her husband for a young actor named Percy. Ben was the final result of a short canoodling between his mother and a museum curator. Like Hugo, not much here either.
1 out of 5 – Product Placement – Wonderstruck is rooted from Selznick’s Caldecott-winning 2008 classic Hugo Cabret, but no consumerism is depicted otherwise–save for one picture. This picture depicted the bustling nightlife-filled streets of NYC, and brands like Chevrolet are clearly visible among all the lights.
1 3/4 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – Like Hugo, this section’s a bit of an iffy. In one scenario, Ben finds his teenage cousin Janet wearing his mom’s clothes and smoking cigarettes. Ben’s mother herself had smoked before she died. I wonder why…
Entertainment: A+ (5 points)
Fun: A+ (5 points)
Smarts: A (4 points)
Style: A+ (5 points)
Read-Again Ratio: B+ (3.5 points)
Humor: B (3 points)
FINAL SCORE: 25.5 out of 30 (I guess Hugo was better :(), 5 stars out of 5, 85% out of 100%
CONSENSUS: It may not have as much flair and magic as its predecessor Hugo Cabret, and it goes by quickly without taking the time to let details soak in, but Wonderstruck is a greatly impressive and engrossing novel with the same eye-popping visuals, unlikely and surprising entertainment, and everlasting comfort that all of Selznick’s books have.
PRICE: On hardcover, the book costs $17 on Amazon. New copies are $11, and 42 are $13. Savings? 42%. The fabled unknown binding of the book costs $44 for a new copy, and just $42 for a used. Savings? It doesn’t say, but I can infer it’s puny. At Barnes & Noble, Wonderstruck costs the same $17 (with the same wee savings), but the marketplace version costs $12 with 59% savings. How about that to leave you wonderstruck? And for the people who mistook this Wonderstruck for Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck, don’t worry–I got you covered too. The 3.4.-oz perfume bottle costs $47 on regular mode (hey, beauty doesn’t come cheap ), and if you plan on ordering order fast–there’s a slight chance shipping might be impacted by Hurricane Sandy. The 1.7-oz Eau de Parfum costs $35, the .33-oz roll-on costs $18, and the 6.8-oz gel costs $25. Now you’ll be reading happy and smelling happy!
You know what to do–subscribe, like, comment, reblog, Press This, share, spread, come back next time for more awesomeness courtesy of Sammwak, blah blah blah. Or should I say, to start off the Thanksgiving season, gobble gobble gobble.
Videos of the Week: Alright, now there are two possible opinions I could state about this video–Tobuscus is doing something with the “Sony PlayStation VIP” campaign, or he’s putting up another one of his little just-for-kicks infomercials. Like the Hot Pockets one. Or was that actually real? Anyway, Toby put this up last Monday and it’s already got over 700,000 hits! Check out this video and comment whether or not you think it’s the real deal. And whether or not you like his sweet house!
And if you want that Hot Pockets one, I got it here for you too. It’s got 1.2 million hits since May this year! That’s pretty darn hot. Not as hot as the Facebook page you’ll likely want to check out after this video: https://www.facebook.com/hotpockets
Let me emphasize it one more time–this post is for mature audiences only. As this book is set in Nazi-time Germany, and it frequently shows praise upon the by-then German “Führer”, Hitler–among other reasons–it might be too much for the youngest of our audiences to handle. So I’ll mark this post with a Restricted for the Young seal, but for all the young walk away thinking this: luckily I didn’t say anything like “rated PG-13” or “rated TV-14”. That would be just crazy…oh, and we should probably slap on a Spoiler Alert seal just to be safe.
Anyway, the book I’m about to talk about is probably the darkest title on the Jolly Good Bookie’s schedule. Yet it’s still been considered one of the best and most-talked-about novels of 2006. It’s an award-winning title in various fields: Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice of 2006, the 2006 Daniel Elliott Peace Award, Publishers Weekly’s Best Children Book of the Year, etc. And it’s been on the NY Times Children’s Bestsellers list for over 230 weeks. [I’ll crunch that down to a comprehensible number: that’s over 4 years.] Now what is this amazing book? One that’s got people on their feet? One that’s been considered the book of the year? Well, it all begins with the story of The Book Thief.
Set in 20th-century Nazi Germany, The Book Thief chronicles the story of a young girl known as Liesel Meminger whom lives on Himmel Street with her foster parents, right outside of Munich. Now, “himmel” is German for “heaven”, and who in their right mind would mock a street named after heaven? 😕 Now, the book takes place in Nazi Germany during WWII, but mostly the Holocaust, so that’s primarily why the book’s so dark. Unsurprisingly death is at its highest rush hour during the events of the book–actually, Death itself narrates the story. And like the Family Guy personification of Death, he’s surprisingly skilled and even pretty funny. The story begins for the most part with the death of Liesel’s little brother Werner (“His blue eyes stared at the floor, seeing nothing” narrated Death 8-0), and the title of “the book thief” starts at Werner’s grievous funeral. At her brother’s graveside, Liesel comes across a book called The Gravedigger’s Handbook, assuredly and mistakenly left behind by a gravedigger’s apprentice. Despite her age compared to the book, she decides to keep it as a final memento of her brother. Despite the compassion in this act, it is still considered a thievery, and that’s how Liesel starts off as “the book thief”. Soon, she starts working her life of crime as a literal part-time job, but her foster father/accordionist Hans Hubermann takes these books as an opportunity to teach Liesel to read. Pretty soon, she’s sharing her misdemeanors with the rest of the kids on the street during bomb showers as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. 🙂 And plus she’s got plenty of friends:
- Max Vandenburg – A Jewish fist fighter whom was taken in by Liesel’s family and sheltered in their own home. He is the son of a WWI fighter that actually faced Hans. He is described with “feather-like hair” and “swampy brown eyes”, and he was stowed away due to the relationship between Hans and Max’s father. Max and Liesel intertwined between their special affinities, and he even wrote two books for her along with a sketchbook that represented his life story. He was taken by the Gestapo to a concentration camp, but managed to reunite with Liesel after the war.
- Rudy Steiner – The arguable deuteragonist–or at least the male protagonist–of the story. He was born eight months before Liesel and is her “bony-legged, sharp-teethed, blue-eyed, lemon-haired” neighbor. Despite being the German ideal, he is against Hitler and the Nazis. He suffers permanent hunger as he lives with six kids, and gained notoriety round the ‘hood because of “the Jesse Owens incident”, where Rudy painted himself with charcoal and ran 100 meters at the local sporting field. He was eventually caught by his father, anyway. He is “gifted” in academic and athletic fields, making him a Nazi Party target of attention, and end up plucking his father when he refuses to be recruited. As he eventually become’s Liesel’s closest friend, he frequently but always unsuccessfully asks her for a kiss. He usually uses this as a comeback when he does a compassionate deed for her, like fishing her most valuable book out of the water.
- Tommy Müller – A friend of Liesel’s and Rudy’s. Due to being stranded in the snow, he has a hearing problem which has evoked various ear surgeries. One dramatic failure damaged his nerves in a way that caused him to have a permanent twitch. This defect has made him the butt of many classmate mockings, and is punished by the head of Hitler Youth for failure to follow instructions.
- Pfiffikus – Not exactly what you’d call a friend, but let’s put him up anyway. He is known solely in the book as the potty-mouth of the neighborhood, and is also a good whistler. His name is actually German for “crafty thing”. Not a big surprise.
And Liesel’s doing the right thing, because some of those kids–well–might not be around after what happens near the end of the book to Himmel Street. 😆
Now, before I even say if this book is good or not, I’m going to tell you why Death, out of all people and perspectives, was chosen as narrator. According to the readers guide at the end of the book, the book’s author Markus Zusak stated that he had made a final decision “with great difficulty”. Apparently everyone knows that war and death are BFFs, and as death couldn’t be more present during war, that was a prime factor in Zusak’s decision. At first, Death was a bit mean-spirited–even for Death. He was “supercilious” (def: Behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others) and enjoyed his work too much. He’d put up hair-raising comments at the sidelines, and showed plenty of delight in his soul pickups. That was when Markus knew The Book Thief wasn’t working. So he went to the 1st and 3rd persons, and half a year later he came back to an exhausted Death; apparently eternity really does wear you out. He was written out to be an anthrophobic (afraid of humans), and his job in the story would say that humans are actually worth it.
Now The Book Thief isn’t actually a bad book, it’s pretty darn good–if not probably the only historical fiction book I really enjoyed reading this year (beside Avi’s Don’t You Know There’s a War On?). It doesn’t have the cleanest rep in various fields, but it’s got intriguing direction and perspective, fast-paced action, appropriate tongue-in-cheek statements or other laughs, and a really big heart to say the least. It goes through a typical day in the life of someone under the Nazis, and portrays messages like sacrifice, friendship, and heroism. All the rest of it–as dark as your usual World War II novel, but especially appealing at that. Now, roll that chart.
4 1/4 out of 5 – Educational value – The book follows the life of several ordinary kids that have had the Nazis brought down on their heads, and how arduous it was to live life without the risk of getting captured or getting roped into an equally dangerous scenario. These “lessons” include how it was like to be part of Hitler Youth to several book-burning episodes. There are also passages from the “Duden Dictionary” scattered throughout the book, giving off the meanings and translations of German words like Lemony Snicket usually defines the “big words” he uses. The perspective of the book translates German statements into English, so it also teaches you a bit of German, like “Verstehst?” stands for “Understand?”, and “Alles gut?” stands for “All good?”
4 out of 5 – Positive messages – Senses of the trials and tribulations people went through often back in the old times, through the powerful and well-played images of the characters. Its ensemble consists lots of characters that show gallant heroism in risking their lives to defend what is right, but also have you ever heard this phrase: “Stand up for what is right, even if you’re standing alone.” This says that you shouldn’t stop at anything to protect the truth.
4 3/4 out of 5 – Positive role models – Liesel is a compassionate, willing, and thoughtful girl that can leave readers thunderstruck and wonderstruck with her perspective on the events in the book, as she constantly switches from reader to writer. Essences of sacrificing, heroism, courage, friendships, sorrow, empathy, and sympathy are portrayed through the book roster. They’ll be moved by the events in the story just by the quality of the narration.
3 1/2 out of 5 – Ease of view – Book Thief isn’t the most comprehensible book, but that doesn’t take off any points in its final score. (Well, it might under Smarts, but…) Some author transitions between Death and Liesel might fool a few readers, but for the most part it has fast-paced perspectives, thoughtful story-lining, and a sweet-as-honey aftertaste.
5 out of 5 – Violence – And lots of it, as the book does take place in Nazi Germany and is very critical to the book’s impact. The large focus on the Führer of the story–Hitler–may leave a few people religiously on end. Hitler’s symbol does appear in various drawings, and there’s definitely a lot of “heil Hitler”-ing. A majority of the violence comes from the war, especially late in the book when Himmel Street gets bombed. Spoiler alert!–People like Rudy, Tommy, and Liesel’s foster parents die in the warlike scene; stomach lurching and/or tears are expected. Just to show she knows her right hook from her left, Liesel beats up a kid at school. Max also beats up his fighting buddy Walter Kugler with a jab to the nose, a right hook, and a punch to the ribs. As Kugler lay on the ground, tears flowed from his eyes but he wasn’t crying; “the tears had been bashed out of him”. Before I read the scene, I also read about lips discolored by blood that would eventually dry across the teeth. When Rudy fails to remember Hitler’s birthday, he gets an awkwardly horrific knife haircut. Before this occurs, with the knife and all you may have expect that Rudy was going to be killed. Liesel also tears up the pages of a book from the library of Ilsa Hermann, the wife of the mayor of Molching. (So I guess there’s “molch” ado about nothing there. :D) In one scenario, Rudy tackles Liesel to restrict her from running into a line of Jews to find Max from being led away. Another character named Frau Holtzapfel (known at first for spitting on the Hubermanns’ door every time she passed due to an old fight) has a son that hangs himself from a local laundry’s rafters. A bomber plane is downed at a river’s banks, and Rudy has the heart to console its pilot with a teddy bear as he thanks him with a dying breath. Hans also suffers a broken leg from a truck accident. Max develops an illness around winter 1942 and falls into a deep sleep that lasts for days that turn into weeks. A group of rowdy kids throw Liesel’s stolen book into a river, but Rudy is able to fetch it (remember that kiss he always wanted). One of the drawings shows two people standing at the peak of a mountain of dead bodies–this should remind you of Breaking Dawn. If it doesn’t, then good; you’re clean. 🙄
4 out of 5 – Inappropriate Content – There is one chapter called “The Thought of Rudy Naked” which literally contains 100% nudity. Three boys, one of them being Rudy, are forced to take off their clothes in front of a female doctor and perform their “first nude ‘heil Hitler’s”. As one boy undresses, Death states that “his self-respect was around his ankles”. “The thought of Rudy naked” then burns into Liesel’s mind, described as having “great dread”. The chapter uses uneasy words like “genitals” and “penises”. Rudy also keeps nagging at Liesel for a kiss throughout the book, and he never received that kiss for his entire life;–spoiler alert!–Liesel finally gives in and fulfills his wish after he dies in the street bombing.
4 3/4 out of 5 – Language – Lots of expletives in both German and English. “S–t”, “a–“, “a–hole”, “bastard”, “slut”, and more four-letter words roll of the tongue in various occasions. The German equivalents of all these words, and then some, are also used: “scheisse/scheiße” (also combos like “scheisskopf” » “s–t head”), “arschloch”, “saukerl”, and also the commonly used “saumensch”. Religious oaths like “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” and “crucified Christ” are also used, plus other anti-Semitic curses and racist African-American remarks. You may know from the “Jesse Owens incident” that Rudy charcoal-ed himself black and ran the hundred meters. Well, not only is this racist, but I consider it blackface. 😥 😥 😥 😥 😥 😥 😥
2 3/4 out of 5 – Product Placement – Book Thief is deemed “the most talked-about book of 2006” and has won a bounty of awards, honors, and recognition, but the award that blazons several copies of the book is its “Michael J. Printz honor” title. The only consumerism you’ll ever come across is Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“My Struggle/Battle”) and its impact on the storyline.
3 3/4 out of 5 – Drinking, Drugs, and/or Smoking – Several characters (adults and kids 8-0) smoke and drink. One smoker blows his puff of smoke directly into Liesel’s face, and Holtzapfel once
teaches forces Liesel to smoke. Luckily I hope she won’t be counting on it ever again.
Entertainment: A+ (5 points)
Fun: B+ (3.5 points)
Smarts: A+ (5 points)
Style: A- (4 points)
Read-Again Ratio: A (4 points)
Humor: A- (4 points)
FINAL SCORE: 25.5 out of 30 (heil Sammwak ;)), 85% out of 100%, 4 out of 5 stars
CONSENSUS: It may have a few smudges on its resumé, but The Book Thief is probably the most engrossing historical fiction book you’ll read, and it’s got the action, the drama, the heart, and the surprises to make sure it doesn’t go down when you first pick it up.
PRICE: (You should probably let your parents take the wheel on this one; I’m just saying.)
- Amazon Hardcover: $10.98 (new: same price, used: $2.90) [45% savings]
- Amazon Paperback: $8.41 (new: $5.50, used: $3.08) [35% savings]
- Amazon Kindle: $9.99 w/ ready Whispersync (new-fangled tech these days allows you to swap between reading and listening) [23% savings]
- Amazon Unabridged Audiobook, Audio CD: $32.13 (new: $26.71, used: $25.15) [37% savings]
- Amazon Unabridged Audible Audio: $30.95, or free (w/ 30-day free trial membership @ Audible.com) with ready Whispersync [25% savings]
- Barnes & Noble Reprinted Paperback: $10.98 (online price) [15% savings]
- Barnes & Noble Marketplace: $2.91 [78% savings]
- Barnes & Noble Nook Book: $9.99 (online price)
So, I guess that’s all for a week with Sammwak. Tune in next week (I really don’t what day I’ll release, so make sure you still have your subscription) for more entertaining romps and everlasting good times. This is Sam, signing out, and stay classy America.
Video of the Week: I’ve already taken up enough space, and besides–nothing I found was dark enough to put up for my audiences. Scenario apologies. 😦