Wonder by RJ Palacio (website, Twitter)
Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary lit, middle school
I read it as a: hardback
Source: my daughter’s collection
Length: 314 pp
Published by: Knopf (14 Feb 2012)
Wonder is the story of August ‘Aggie’ Pullman, a boy who was born with a rare condition that leaves him with severe facial abnormalities. Because he spent so many years having various surgeries and health issues, Auggie never went to traditional school and was instead homeschooled by his mother. Then, 5th grade comes around and Auggie’s parents decide he needs to start attending a regular school. He tests into a well respected private school and starts middle school. A group of kids who were asked by the principal to keep an eye on Auggie and help him out are integral to his experiences in his first year at real school and Auggie learns that some people hide surprising depths.
My daughter read this in her class this year and she really liked it. She wanted me to read it as well and since I enjoy talking about books with her, I was happy to do so. I found the multiple perspectives to be effective in giving various angles to Auggie’s story. Sometimes, multiple POVs are just disorganized or distracting but it works well in this narrative. The book starts out with Auggie’s POV then shifts between his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, Jack, Via’s boyfriend Justin, and Auggie’s friend Summer. I do wish there had been a perspective for each of his parents and for Mr Tushman, the principal. It would have been insightful to get the views from adults who were a big part of Auggie’s story as well, so I feel that a lot of added depth was missed by leaving them out.
I enjoyed seeing the ways in which Auggie grew over the course of his first year in a real school. I have long said kids can be real assholes, and it held true in this book, but it was also a good example of how kids learn from example as well. Some are born assholes and some are born kind, but often they can be influenced one way or the other by the way they are raised. One kid was apparently born an asshole and that was reinforced by his horrid mother; another was basically good but his childhood reinforced ways for him to be an asshole; and one kid is just a good kid, although we don’t see the parents to know how they are raising their kids.
The overarching message was, of course, to be kinder than is necessary. I think this is a really relevant theme for kids to learn, all the time, but especially now. With the cruel, racist, hateful Trump administration eroding compassion and empathy everywhere, it is nice to read something that sends a good message, even though it was written well before that thing became President. Yes, I will find a way to make even a kid’s book political, because fuck Trump. NO, I am not empathetic to him or his toadies.
ANYWAY. It is a good message to teach kids not to judge anyone by the way they look, whether it is the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or if they have medical conditions making them look different from most people. Auggie is a cool, funny, smart boy, but many people would never know it because they are shallow and freak out about the way he looks rather than trying to know the person inside.
Definitely recommended reading for all parents and kids. Reading it together is even better. Talk to each other.