Book Reviews

Review — The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Book title: The Marvels
Author: Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: September 2015
Format: Hardcover, 665 pages
Source: Library.

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Synopsis:

Caldecott Award winner and bookmaking trailblazer Brian Selznick once again plays with the form he invented and takes readers on a voyage!

Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.


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What I liked:

  • I think I liked The Marvels a teensy bit more than Hugo Cabret. Hugo was excellent, but it was such a children’s story — though still accessible to young adults and adults. The Marvels is a bit darker and less straightforward. There’s less magic, but there’s just as much heart to it. There isn’t a true plot, but I loved the emotional ride and the more adult themes explored here.
  • The twist! It’s not a giant twist, but it definitely plays with you and throws your emotions around.
  • Brian Selznick’s black and white illustrations are simple yet gorgeous. An entire story is told through pictures alone, with absolutely no dialogue and extremely little writing in the form of illustrated letters and newspaper articles. More than half the book covers this “separate” story, but in the end everything is tied together beautifully.
  • LGBT! It’s subtle but it’s there, and it’s dealt with in such a normal, quiet way. No fuss, no big deal. It’s handled as just a fact and I appreciated it so much.
  • The cover. The gold page edges. The presentation of the book itself is gorgeous and definitely something I’d love to own and display on my shelf. Also, at 665 pages this book is so heavy! You could use this to knock out someone if you needed.

What I didn’t like (as much):

  • The story. I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret for the mystery. The Marvels seemed a little disjointed until everything started getting tied together. And I at first wasn’t that interested in the story’s long legacy of actors.
  • I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters, either, probably because of the short time we got to spend with them. Joseph, the main character in the prose portion of the story, seemed a bit generic. Many of the characters felt like characters we’ve all seen before, but this isn’t a problem. This is a rare book where the somewhat lacking plot and characters really don’t detract from the overall experience. I’ve got nothing truly negative to say about this novel.

The verdict:

The Marvels is a lovely book that I highly recommend. It is based on a real house in London, and I suggest reading Brian’s Author’s Note at the back of the book to learn how he got the inspiration for this novel. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Marvels, and I read it in two sittings, completely enraptured and craving more of Brian’s excellent illustrations. The man knows how to draw a wordless story to perfection. ♦


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Have you read The Marvels?
If you haven’t, would you be interested to?
What’s a book told in both illustrations and prose you’ve read and loved?
Comment below letting me know!
And, as always, happy reading!

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4 thoughts on “Review — The Marvels by Brian Selznick

  1. I ADORED the Hugo movie, so I went out and bought the book, and while I didn’t love it quite as much, it was still gorgeous. It was so unique in the way that the story was told!

    This books sounds quite lovely! I am super keen for a story told in both prose and illustrations, and it is also LGBT+ (flails madly). Also, the cover is super gorgeous, and I also love books that are told in two different times. They’re super common in adult fiction, but not to much in either kids/MG or YA! So hurrah for that.

    As for a book told in prose and illustrations … I am currently reading a book called Eren by Simon P. Clark, and it’s told in quite an interesting way. There are illustrations every so often, and the story is also told in present and past tense. There is a lot of mystery surrounding it, so I am not entirely sure whether I am in love with it or not, haha.

    Lovely review, Mallory! 😀

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    1. I haven’t seen the Hugo movie, but I want to! And yes, you’re so right — dual timeline stories are really common in Adult books, but less so in MG and YA. I wonder why? And I haven’t heard of Eren, but now you’ve made me curious! I’m not a huge fan of tenses jumping back and forth, but I love illustrations within stories and I love mysterious things. I’ll have to check it out. 🙂

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