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Review – The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Standalone by Brian Selznick

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My favourite thing about this book is that it’s basically a large scale picture book for an older audience than picture books generally court. The writing is simple and patient without being dumbed down, and the story is structured so that it’s easy to follow while still being suspenseful.

I made the mistake of judging the book by its page count and expected something like Eragon or later Harry Potter instalments. So I put off reading poor Hugo far longer than I should have. But of course the majority of the book is comprised of lovely pictures. They’re incredibly detailed pencils that usually follow one another like frames. On topic with both the automation and movies.

Strangely, I did not come into this book thinking it would be a fantasy or steampunk sort of thing. Either I already knew it was historical fiction, or it looked enough like it up until I recognised Georges Méliès and A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la Lune. I like that it was Hugo’s father’s favourite film. It’s one of mine as well.

The characters are all sympathetic, although it got on my nerves how many times they throw harsh accusations at one another with little evidence and more vehemence than the situation calls for. Sometimes they’re enigmatic for next to no reason, aside from keeping information from the reader for just a little while longer. That first scene can be a little hard to get through. I did want to kick the old man for taking Hugo’s notebook and threatening to burn it.

There is a considerable amount of real peril. Characters get injured, face significant consequences (sometimes for things that can’t be helped), and it seems like everyone has to deal with psychological trauma. The results of which were quite upsetting in at least one case. It’s nice to see a children’s book that doesn’t shy away from real life, particularly since this is historical fiction.

While I generally dislike the film adaptation coming up in a book review, this is one of the few books I can say has a film adaptation faithful enough to be worth showing in a classroom in relation to the book. Both are also highly invested in spectacular visuals.