Pros: Beautiful drawings that complement the text very well.
Cons: Not particularly challenging for intended audience.
The Bottom Line: The story is not overly interesting but the way it is told is interesting. Slightly above average.
The first thing you notice about the book is either the front cover or the spine; the second thing, if you pick it up, is the feel. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (written and illustrated by Brian Selznick) has a bright, inviting cover; it is also impressively large for a young adult novel. Pick it up though and it is even more impressive. The book is a bit over 500 pages, but it feels as if it were a book of twice that length. The reason for this is the page thickness, required to render the books fantastic pencil drawings.
The story is told in two parts. Hugo is an orphaned boy of 12 whose father died in a fire at a museum where he was working to restore an old automaton found in the museums attic. Hugo finds the automaton after the fire and recovers it. He believes that fixing the mechanical puppet will change his life. Since he is penniless, he steels to eat and from a toy maker in order to get the cogs and plates necessary to fix the automaton. This brings Hugo into contact with the bitter old man, Papa Georges, who runs the toy store. Instead of telling any more of the story, since it is part mystery, I will leave the summary with a few questions. How are Papa Georges and his goddaughter Isabel connected to the automaton? Assuming the automaton gets fixed what does it do?
The story is interesting but not totally compelling; by itself it would be essentially predictable and more dull than not. What makes the story worth the relatively short time it takes to read it are the drawings. Each drawing takes up the entirety of the left and right pages. They are drawn with pencil on watercolor paper; the effect is to make each drawing look as if it is rendered on skin which makes them that much more lively.
At the end of the story you find out that there were fewer than 22,000 words used to tell the whole story. I think, given the relative ease of the prose and the aid of the pictures, this could easily be a fun read for someone as young as 9, 8 if they are truly an accelerated reader.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret has action, adventure, a little bit of childhood rambunctiousness, and the clever attention that children from 9 to 12 typically have. It is a mystery to a certain extent, but not one that you can solve; it is atypical in this, but essentially at least one person in the novel is not what they seem to be (in that lies the secrets I dont want to give away.
For an adult reader, the story is good but not great. I actually let significant time pass between the first and second parts in order to read other books. It isnt exactly dull, but it lacks the partially hidden inside jokes that make some young adult books fun and funny for adults in a way that children do not get but that is also not distracting to them. Also, the title is a bit of a misnomer. Hugo doesnt invent anything; he is a mechanical genius from a line of mechanical experts, but what he does is repair and mend not invent. This might sound picky, but I think it demonstrates that the book is truly meant for a younger audience and not for adults.
There is nothing in the novel that would be disturbing to any young reader (there is thievery, but it is explained in the context of need). The book contains no foul language but does cover a vast range of emotions in an easy manner. And finally, it is just pretty to look at so it should have enough in it to keep a younger reader busy for a couple of days.
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