Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
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Apr 10, 2012

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bookshelves: fiction, misc

An innovative, often moving book about a boy orphaned in a train station who must fix a complex automaton that may then write a message from his recently deceased father. The many complex pencil drawings, fascinating at least at the start, follow Hugo around, zooming up close to him and zooming back out like a movie camera as he struggles to keep a train station's large clocks running on time.

The book, at its heart, is a tribute to a French pioneer of some of the first movies ever made, George Méliès - a Roald Dahl of movie creation, if you will. Some of his actual drawings and still pictures from his movies offer an excellent change of pace in later parts of the book.

Alas, the overall quickness of "Hugo" also makes the book seem stilted, with this reader feeling jerked around by a rapidly changing plot and a lack of context. What I thought was the main point of the book - Hugo finding out important information about his recently deceased father - shifts inexplicably to George Méliès, who in the story runs a toy store in the train station. The pictures turn from emotional, symbolic and creatively-angled at the start of the book to more matter-of-fact drawings that simply move the plot along when Hugo travels anywhere.

Being a big fan of books like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Island of the Blue Dolphins" and "Lord of the Flies", I think this book would be a great read for fifth through twelfth graders. It was close to being a great read for me.

Update: one of the rare instances where the movie is better than the book! The book reads as sort of a storyboard for the big screen. The movie makes a better connection between the boy finding a new family while we see time ticking away. He's still a child when an old movie maker's avant-garde, playful films are rediscovered.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Stephanie Griffin I disagree. The book captured me emotionally but I thought the film was sappy. Reading the book was like watching one of Melies' films. I was disappointed but still enjoyed the recent film version of Hugo except for the wide-eyed saccharinity.

message 2: by Philip (new)

Philip Great review. I've neither read it, nor seen it - but I see it everywhere.

I'm a huge Roald Dahl fan. He probably tops out my favorite authors list. Giving him a shout-out in your review definitely makes me want to read this more.

Shawn Sorensen Thank you Philip! Funny that - Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is better in book form than any of the movies, while Hugo is the opposite. Maybe just see the movie (which is AWESOME) and tell me if it rings your bell. Would be a good parent/child viewing experience!

Shawn Sorensen I could see that, Stephanie, especially in the role of the girl. I sort of cringed at the beret and her saying "papa george" all the time, plus the station manager played best to the younger theater crowd. I just got caught up in the story and overlooked the saccharine. The book felt a little rushed and piecemeal to me, but I still really liked it.

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