Next up in our Recommended Reads for Children series, Marianne explores Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a book for older children which has been labelled as ‘the breakout publishing sensation of 2012’. Does it live up to the hype?
After 27 operations to correct his facial deformities and being home-schooled for years, August (Auggie) Pullman is about to start middle school. This is pretty daunting for any child but for Auggie who is just an ordinary kid with an extraordinary face his life is about to get a whole lot more difficult. Even his father says that having Auggie attend Beecher Prep would be like sending ‘a lamb to the slaughter.’ How will he fit into middle school life when he looks so different from everyone else? Can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
Palacio divides the novel into eight parts, mixing Auggie’s first-person narrative with the voices of family members and classmates, wisely expanding the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s arrival at school doesn’t test only him, it affects everyone in the community. It won’t do to give away too much of the plot but Wonder is much more than a book about bullying, it is a struggle of ordinary people to be kind. Auggie’s wonderful headmaster, Mr Tushman, emphasises how easy it is to hurt people and how we all have in us the choice always to be kind.
‘If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.’
Having a main character who is profoundly different allows Palacio a forum to magnify what most middle school students experience — the struggle to figure out who they are and how to navigate a more complex social structure than they experienced as young children. Auggie does, of course, have his own challenges too, and that adds depth to the story. I especially appreciated how Palacio portrayed the characters who were not particularly mean but still did not know how to react to Auggie – many of us have been there. The success of this is due completely to the kind and courageous character of Auggie. In a complex world it is good to have the light of a child’s voice – a ray of more innocent hope:
‘It’s like people you see sometimes, and you can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can’t talk. Only, I know that I’m that person to other people, maybe to every single person in that whole auditorium. To me, though, I’m just me. An ordinary kid.’
R. J. Palacio has written an uplifting story with realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and short chapters, making Wonder accessible to readers of all levels. There are parts where I laughed out loud and parts where I cried, when I reached the end I wanted to hug everyone in sight and for lack of a person in close range I sat there and hugged the book. A good story, content to think on, and emotion – what more could you want?
You can buy Wonder via The Reader Organisation’s Amazon Bookshop link and help support The Reader Organisation’s work.
If you’d rather buy your books from somewhere offline, you can find Wonder in all good bookshoops, including Topping & Company in Ely and Bath.