Rebecca Kilroy, Ridge High School, Basking Ridge
Author: Brian Selznick, The Marvels
Dear Brian Selznick,
You made me cry. And I want to thank you for it. When I first read your book,
The Marvels, I wept for Joseph and his Uncle Albert. No other book has affected me like that, before or since. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous that a book could make me cry. I’m usually immune to sad backstories and character deaths. They pass through me, but aren’t real. And in some ways, that was still true of The Marvels. I didn’t cry for most of the book, not until I reached the last twenty pages. That’s when all the tragedy of the book evaporates, and is replaced with… what? I don’t really know. Does the story end with Joseph’s fantasy or an actual look at the future? Does he save the house, find Blink, and carry on his uncle’s legacy? Or is that all fiction within fiction, like so many other parts of the book? The thing about The Marvels is I’ll never know, however much I’d like to. The ending is purposefully vague. In the last twenty pages, it hands the power over to the reader and gives them a choice: will you have hope or not?
When I read the book, that’s a choice I found myself facing every day. My freshman year of high school, my older sister had a mental health crisis, and had to drop out of school. Suddenly, a lifetime’s worth of plans for her to graduate high school and go to college seemed impossible. My parents thought the worst, that she might never get her life on track again. I was left in purgatory: I wanted to believe life would improve, while bracing for the worst. Could I have hope? At the end of the day, would it matter if I did? Hopeful or not, I tried to be brave. I didn’t tell my friends what was going on at home or mention it to any of my teachers. I didn’t even let myself cry. For months. I was convinced crying would show some weakness when my family needed me to be strong.
Then I read the ending of The Marvels, and I reached the same crossroads of having to choose whether to hope for a happy ending. I wanted so badly for things to work out for Joseph that it brought me to tears. He deserved happiness, he needed it as much as I did. Of course, him keeping the house and maintaining it would be impossible. But so many impossible things happen in The Marvels. Uncle Albert, ready to die alone, can find a nephew who loves him, and Frankie who lost her brother, can get a part of him back. The rules of impossibility don’t apply in this book.
Joseph’s love for Albert proved that to me more than anything. Albert is a difficult person to love. He’s wrapped up in his own sorrow and actively working to block other people out. A lot like my sister was during my freshman year. But Joseph found a way into his uncle’s heart and his life by appreciating something Albert loved. Maybe I could do the same. Inspired by the descriptions of Albert’s historical home in your book, I started reading more about architecture, my sister’s planned college major. And even though her future seemed shaky, this was enough to bring us together. Now, we talk nearly every day, even though she’s away at college. Because in the end, she got there. I thought about finishing this letter by asking about the real ending to the book. Is what we see reality? Does Joseph really live with Blink and maintain Albert’s house? However, I’ve decided I don’t really want to know. I surrender to hope. In my mind, there will always be a happy ending.
Since the first time it brought me to tears, I’ve reread The Marvels at least once a year, and I cry every time. Above all else, it reminds me life is worth hoping for. I tried loaning The Marvels to friends and family. Some people found the same magic I did. Most didn’t. So, I think there’s something special about the people who love this book. Because as you said, “you either see it or you don’t.” I see it. Thank you for showing it to me.