Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels
Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press; September 2015
Hardcover; 665 pages

If you’ve heard of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, then you know what’s waiting for you when you open a Brian Selznick book. If you haven’t heard or read Hugo Cabret, then The Marvels will surely be a treat for you.

The first 400 pages of the book are pure illustrations. With the turn of every page, you’re learning more and more about the story of the Marvels. Three to four generations unfold before your eyes. It’s more than just newspaper clippings, posters and paintings. It’s the story of the Marvels through the eyes of the youngest of the line as each generation is born.

So, if you’re flipping through the first 400 pages and not really examining the illustrations, then you’re doing it wrong because those images are important. They’re not just supporting illustrations; they are the story.

The second portion of the book (which is really the latter third) is a major time jump. It takes us from the late 1766 to 1994, to a young boy named Joseph who runs away from his boarding school over the winter holiday and finds himself alone in snowy London. He’s looking for his uncle, Albert Nightingale, whom his mother never speaks of and whom he’s never met. However, he’s driven to learn more about his family and sets off to find his uncle.

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Albert is less than thrilled that Joseph is knocking on his door and their relationship is as cold as that winter night. Joseph was amazed by Albert’s home, which looked as though he had just entertained a dinner party with food on the table and a napkin on the floor. It’s these types of small details that Joseph picks up while he stays with his Uncle Albert until his mother is able to pick him up. (Side note: Joseph’s parents travel a lot, which is why he’s in boarding school and why they don’t know he ran away.)

I don’t want to spoil the story but Joseph accidentally discovers the Marvels and connects the dots between the similarities between himself and the Marvels (bright red hair, being the black sheep and being a little odd, small trinkets he’s noticed), and he demands his Uncle Albert to share their family story. Albert doesn’t immediately tell Joseph their family story, but rather expresses You either see it or you don’t. So Joseph does some digging himself and learns the truth behind the Marvels. And, ohhhh, does Uncle Albert have some explaining to do.

Like Hugo Cabret, there’s an interesting twist behind the story. Additionally, the book is self-aware, as in… Joseph finds a stack of illustrations that are described exactly as the first 400 pages of the book you are holding in your hands. It’s that real.

I love the themes and emotions in this book, and that Selznick is once again able to bring to his stories to life and treasure his characters. The characters, the house-museum — they’re based on the life of Dennis Severs, who lived in London, and his act of preserving a home in its antiquated (but functioning) condition.

If you’re comfortable with a book that’s 70 percent illustrations and 30 percent written word, then this is the book for you. If you’re into stories of self-discovery, family, love, history and some suspense, go for it.

5 out of 5
Copy from my local library

4 thoughts on “Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

  1. Lisa says:

    I adored this book. I love the use of illustrations to tell the story, rather than just as pictures alongside a story. The second part was such a great twist on everything we thought we already knew. Lovely. Great review!


    • Mary says:

      Agreed! –and thank you! The illustrations are there for a reason, not just to fill up space! The twist threw me off, and I probably reread that section three times.


  2. Brittany says:

    I’m so SO glad you seem to have loved The Marvels as much as I do!
    And boy, did you do it justice with your review; brilliantly written. Can I borrow you for my next SLJ submission?? :0)


    • Mary says:

      I’m really flattered you think that! :o)! But I mean, if you need someone to bounce ideas off of… ;) Jk. But if you’re looking for a BEA buddy, if you plan on going, I’m always here!


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