The Marvels by Brian Selznick
The illustrations in The Marvels are fabulous so the first 400 pages or so of artwork are absolutely mesmerizing. The "story in pictures" told during this section is brilliant. Characters come and go, time passes, events unfold, clues are dropped, and it's all cleverly revealed in these magnificent sketches.

However, when the text part of the story began, I lost connection with the book. The writing is wonderful, of course, as Mr. Selznick is a great and highly successful author. If you are a fan of his from previous works, you will undoubtedly love this one. I finished the book only to enjoy more of his beautiful sensory descriptions and to learn where the story went, even though I wasn't really liking it. And ultimately, I’m glad I did because there were more lovely drawings at the end, plus a writer’s note which told us readers the reasons why Mr. Selznick was inspired to create this novel.

The reason I lost connection with the story is it had so many chances to take a magical turn, yet it always stayed grounded in somewhat sad reality. Not all books go the way we want them to, I get that. The world is a real place, OK. And it is certainly fine to create something like this that does have some new, unexpected sort-of-kind-of fantasyish elements - but that stays put in the real world. To state the obvious, we don't need to go to Hogwarts or Camp Half-blood all the time. However, the title of this book, the opening illustrations, the overall feel of it, and the fact that Amazon recommends it for ages 10 and up...well, you think you have a magical kid's book on your hands. Yet for me, it didn't turn out as a book that was appropriate for this young of an audience. Moreover, The Marvels may not even be enjoyable to them, because of the hard truths in the subject matter.

So the question I wrestled with the most while reading it, and also after finishing, is what audience is targeted? The book felt a bit all over the place with lots of challenging topics. For example, as you'll learn from a lot of these other reviews, there is a definite reference to a homosexual relationship and presumably another one alluded to at the end. But there is absolutely nothing graphic or offensive about it whatsoever, it's more just about love shared between two male adults and there's definitely no "hidden agenda" or messages or any nonsense like that. However, parents need to know about this so they can discuss the topic with their kids before or after reading the book. The story mentions HIV as well, and the disease kind of subtly impacts a lot in the book. This could be discomforting for a 10 yr old, or maybe not. Maybe they would read right over that if they didn't know what it was. And also, maybe young readers don't even register the few times the loving relationship between the two men is mentioned.

The point is, I don't feel this is a book for middle graders. As I wrote earlier, you look at the title and thumb through the spectacular illustrations and go 'Hey this is full of magic and mystery, excitement and fantasy, looks great!' But it's not. It's really quite serious and a bit melancholy. Written extremely well and beautifully designed, but still a deep, mature novel. So I think it's much better for maybe an advanced reading middle schooler or better yet, an older high schooler so he/she can really grasp the overall story and appreciate the way all the parts come together. A more mature reader would understand the emotional themes of loss and longing and the difficulties that come with trying desperately to hold onto the past.

Most importantly, parents really should read The Marvels first, so they can think about the potentially difficult topics contained within, and use the book as an opportunity to connect with their kids and generate deep conversation. Honestly, fellow parents, this is extremely important.

We have to be aware and be involved with what our kids are reading. Books are awesome and reading is my favorite thing. So I constantly see the lines between youth and mature becoming quite blurred these days. And I think a lot of times, your kids will get a book as a gift that is certainly not right for them. Maybe someone thought the cover looked cool, or the title seemed suitable, but that’s not enough these days. Keep an eye on what your youngsters are reading. Browse a few Amazon reviews. Check some blogs (such as mine smile ) to find good quality books to give as gifts. Use books as a chance to grow and learn with your kids. Don’t put yourself in a position where your 8 yr old brings a book to you and says “I don’t understand this” and you look at it...and there is a legit sex scene contained within. It’s possible, trust me.

Use books as an opportunity to generate meaningful conversation and build strong connections. And more often then that, use them to have fun, of course! (As long as you have the right books!!)

Happy reading!