I am a huge fan of Brian Selznick, absolutely loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, but I’ll admit I don’t closely follow his career. I found out about The Marvels while scrolling through Tumblr; someone had posted a book stack with a book that had the Selznick trademark spine — a beautiful illustration of a sliver of a someone’s face.
I immediately went into a conniption fit of “HE WROTE ANOTHER BOOK????” and jetted over to Amazon to find it. To my shock, amazement, and suspicion, the book had terrible reviews. To my memory, Hugo and Wonderstruck were 5 star masterpieces and the reviews reflected this, but The Marvels had tons of 1 and 2 star reviews!
This struck me as strange, so I started reading through the poor reviews to see what was up. There, I encountered some … interesting complaints.
Things like “this is a children’s book, not Brokeback Mountain.”
Apparently, this book had gay characters. And apparently, that was enough for a whole slew of people to leave hateful, distasteful reviews calling for the book’s banishment and boycott.
I’ve never bought anything so fast in all my life.
If you’re unfamiliar with Brian Selznick, this is his standard modus operandi — a beautiful MONSTER of a book that interchanges pencilled illustrations with snippets of text which, together, tell a full, robust, usually emotionally devastating story. His work is gorgeous, and reading his books are a visceral, immersive experience.
For The Marvels, Selznick changed up his own style, which I thought was really inventive: he starts the book off with a story told totally through illustrations, then switches to a fully prose story without a single picture that builds off of the illustrated tale.
The illustrated story begins on a ship in the 1700s and moves through several generations of this theatre family called The Marvels (this frequent time jumping, told only through pictures, got a little confusing, but I stuck with it — everything fell into place by the end.)
After this very emotional story ends with total devastation and a hole in my aorta, we switch to “present day” (which is really in the 1990s) where a boy, Joseph, has run away from his boarding school and is hoping to hide out at his uncle’s — despite having never met the man before. When he gets to his uncle’s, he’s very confused. The man lives in a house that’s almost a museum, a shrine to a life paused long ago. Joseph finds evidence of the Marvels — old photographs, portraits, newspaper snippets, and clothes — and, putting together that these people must be his ancestors, he badgers his uncle to tell him his family’s story. But his uncle is cagey and resistant. Something’s not right. Joseph soon finds the mystery of the house too alluring not to solve.
What a gorgeous book. And by “gorgeous” I mean I finished this book in first hours of the 24 Hour Readathon, so I was basically sitting outside on the porch at 9 in the morning sobbing my damn eyes out. Don’t listen to the vile one-star reviewers calling for a boycott because this book dares to have gay characters. Listen to me: this story is wonderful. Marvelous. It’s an emotional, touching story about discovering your family and finding yourself, preserving your past at the expense of forgetting your present. I would encourage anyone of any age to read this lovely book. And to bring tissues. Because guh.