The magic and mystery intensify as narrative text replaces illustrations about a boy, Joseph, who has run away from boarding school with a friend that has since disappeared on him. The two were headed for his uncle's house in London. Joseph makes his way alone to his uncle's place who is not happy with his appearance on his doorstep. More mysteries reveal themselves as Joseph explores the house that seems to be from a time long past and the stories of the Marvels becomes more complex. Strange sounds, half-finished meals, and decor from the past suggest magic or hidden people in the house. A series of events reveal the truth and Joseph learns what it means to be loved and find happiness.
A subplot shows Joseph making friends with a girl that lives by his uncle whose brother died when she was very young. It tore their family apart and affected Joseph's uncle who knew the boy well. Selznick leaves clues that makes the story unfold like a mystery. The story is based on a real person that lived in a similar house in New York and if the reader knows that story I can see it making the plot direction more predictable than for someone like myself who has no background knowledge. I wasn't sure if it was going to turn into a fantasy at one point and I was delighted by the unexpected turns in the plot. Good plot surprises are like a tickle.
So many themes emerge from this book from creating art, finding a family, grief over the death of loved ones, friendship, gender identity, and more. When I grew up stories about families made up of partners that were not heterosexual did not exist in children's literature. Today, there are more diverse books that allow for self-identification for readers. In a time when hate and violence seen in the imagery of the aftermath of terrorist bombings and wars are so prevalent in the media, the message of tolerance seems even more urgent. While Selnick's book doesn't get into any specifics on the AIDS epidemic or gender identity like young adult books, it is a subplot that can either be discussed or not. More importantly, it shows that there are many different types of families in the world.