The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I’m not often drawn to juvenile literature, but I overheard a couple of friends talking about this book at a recent book club gathering and decided to get it for my two older boys.  When I found it at Barnes & Noble, what I found was a big, meaty book with a wonderfully colorful jacket, full of beautiful artwork and pages of text framed in black.

Let me just stop here and confess that I am often a sucker for aesthetics when it comes to books; although one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it’s very often the cover that draws me in the first place.  So just the beauty of this book intrigued me.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the story of a young orphan living in a busy Paris train station in the 1930s.  Having been taken in by his drunken uncle, the keeper of the clocks at the train station, after the young boy’s parents die, Hugo begins keeping the train station clocks himself when his uncle mysteriously disappears.  Hugo knows clocks and mechanics – his beloved father was a clockmaker who discovered a mysterious, broken-down automaton in the attic of a museum, and set to work refurbishing it, only to have his project come to an abrupt end upon his untimely death.

Not wanting to be discovered without an adult caretaker lest he end up in an orphanage, Hugo continues to keep the train station’s clocks so as to not alert anyone to his uncle’s disappearance.  Hugo lives by his wits – traveling through secret tunnels and passageways in the train station, and stealing food for his survival.  In possession of the automaton his father was so lovingly trying to restore before his death, Hugo also steals mechanical parts from the train station’s toy booth, hoping to one day refurbish the automaton himself, convinced that the automaton will provide the answers Hugo needs to survive.

Along the way, he becomes entangled with the toy booth’s owner, a cantankerous old man, and a strong-willed young girl who seems intent on thwarting Hugo’s every effort.  Who is this mysterious old man and what is his connection to Hugo’s automaton?  And will the automaton provide the answers Hugo is looking for?

At 533 pages, this is actually a very quick read; my two boys each read it in a day, and I read it in two afternoons.  Half the pages are gorgeous sketches that tell part of the story, and many of the pages of text are only a paragraph or two long.  Combining elements of novel, graphic novel, and cinema, this is a unique reading experience.  I really enjoyed it, and look forward to taking my boys to see the movie version that’s recently been released.

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