Thursday, May 15, 2014

Roosevelt's Beast—Louis Bayard

I didn't realize when I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program that it had some supernatural elements to it. This is admittedly my own fault for oftentimes not reading all the way through the descriptions. I found that supernatural factor off-putting while reading the book, particularly because I have something of a love affair with the Roosevelts.

However, I didn't know much, or anything really, about Kermit Roosevelt before I read this book. Now, the book is fictionalized, so I don't necessarily know a whole lot more than I did before. But still it was interesting to see the dynamic between Kermit and his grandiose father. And also to think about how difficult it would have been to be the son of a former president, as well as the cousin of a future president AND future first lady. I can only imagine that anything you chose to do would be seen as something of a failure, even if you were a successful person by any person's definition. So it was interesting to see his struggle with that, which is a feeling that is eminently easy to relate to even these days. I also knew nothing about the Amazon excursion, which is one of the truths that the story is based upon, and was intrigued enough to find out more about that, history-nerd that I am. (If you are interested, you can find out more basic information on the Wikipedia page. Or, you know, read an actual book with verified information about it.)

Mostly this book just really rubbed me the wrong way, and I couldn't nail down precisely why that was. I like historical fiction books, I like supernatural books, I even like historical fiction supernatural books. But I couldn't settle into this one. For some reason, I just couldn't reconcile the two genres in my mind for this book.

Wonderstruck—Brian Selznick

One of my absolute favourite things about Brian Selznick is the aesthetics of his books. I had previously read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and fell in love with his style. (Also, side note, as a person who appreciates good quality paper, the paper that is used in his books is so smooth and thick...and I can't think of a way to say that which doesn't sound incredibly suggestive to me...Regardless, I love the paper.)

I really enjoy the combination of hand-drawn pages and sections of text that Selznick uses to tell a story. Some of his drawings are so simple, but so impactful. As you can see from the picture above, the cover of the book is beautiful; however, if you remove the cover from the hardback version, the laid out cover underneath is stunning.

This book is set in split times, 1927 and 1977, showing us the experiences of Rose and Ben respectively. As we follow them, we quickly find out that Rose is completely deaf; Ben used to be deaf in only one ear, and then was struck by lightning, leaving him entirely deaf. Rose struggles with isolation from her family as a deaf child of hearing parents, and especially with the unacceptability of sign language at that time. Ben struggles with his new deafness, which is made even more difficult considering the recent death of his mother and his not knowing his father. Feeling a burden to his mother's sister and brother, and unsatisfied with his life with them in general, Ben decides to leave. With very few clues, Ben goes on a hunt to find his father's family. Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, Selznick artfully draws the two stories together.

I truly appreciated the note from Selznick at the end about his initial interest in telling a story with deaf protagonists. It was thorough and thoughtful, and he included a full list of resources for people who might be interested in learning more. Be still my history nerd heart!

I strongly recommend this to anyone who is looking for something that is a quick read with gorgeous drawings and a beautifully-woven story.