Monday, April 16, 2012


It is pretty near impossible to have anything at all to do with children's literature and not know about all the buzz surrounding Wonder by R.J. Palacio. There was a big part of me that was only reading it because I felt like I had to. Not always the best attitude to go into a book with, but this is a book that can't be tainted by one's bad attitude, partly because it is so well done, and partly because it is impossible to be negative and cynical while reading Auggie's story.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances? 

This is a school story.
It is a story about friendship.
It is a story about family. 
It is a story with a dog. (Yes, one of those kind.)
It is a story about empathy, kindness, compassion, and the amazing resilience of the human spirit.
It is a story with mean kids and the mean parents who are creating them. 

Now if you are anything like me you might be thinking you've read this before and don't have a need to read it again. You might be thinking, "Oh, this is one of those books. One of those books meant to teach an important lesson while accruing as many awards as possible." The awards shall be accrued I'm sure, but this novel doesn't read like so many problem stories do. That is because it has characters. This novel stands apart from so many that have come before it in that it focuses on the people not the problem. This isn't a book about acceptance, bravery, standing up for what is right when it is hard. Except it is. Because this is a book about humanity and all of those things are a part of it. It works because Palacio made her characters so real. She gave them distinct voices, personalities, fully rounded lives.

At the center of the story is Auggie, a boy with a facial abnormality so abnormal they don't even have a name for it. The story chronicles his first year at traditional school and is told from several points of view. It begins with his own and includes his sister, friends from school, and friends of his sister. Each person's part isn't just about Auggie though. It is about that person too. Through the changing points of view you get a varied and detailed account and the know that everything is not always as it seems. So much goes behind every action, every word a human being commits or speaks. What one person sees is never the entire story. Each person is their own story and together they all make a bigger one. This is where the power of the book lies, in the threads it shows that bind each individual together into a community.

I could talk about all the characters and what I loved about each of them, but they speak so marvelously for themselves (and for the story):
I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.
  August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun...I'm used to the way this universe works. I've never minded it because it's all I've ever known I've always understood that August is special and has special needs...My worst day, worst fall, worst headache, worst bruise, worst cramp, worst mean thing anyone could say has always been nothing compared to what August has gone through. This isn't me being noble, by the way: it's just the way I know it is. And this is the way it's always been for me, for the little universe of us. But this year there seems to be a shift in the cosmos. The galaxy is changing. Planets are falling out of alignment.
  Some kids have actually come out and asked me why I hang out with "the freak" so much. These are kids that don't even know him well. If they knew him, they wouldn't call him that...Who knew that my sitting with August Pullman at lunch would be such a big deal? People act like it was the strangest thing in the world. It's weird how weird kids can be.
I'd been talking to Julian about August. Oh man. Now I understood! I was so mean. I don't even know why. I'm not even sure what I said, but it was bad. It was only a minute or two. It's just that I knew Julian and everybody thought I was so weird for hanging out with August all the time, and I felt stupid. And I don't know why I said that stuff. I just was going along. I was stupid. I am stupid. Oh God.
-Jack (my favorite)
it's funny how there's a word like overprotective to describe some parents, but no word that means the opposite what word do you use to describe parents who don't protect enough? underprotective? neglectful? self-involved? lame? all of the above. olivia's family tell each other "i love you" all the time. i can't remember the last time anyone in my family said that to me.
-Justin (It was very difficult not to correct the capitalization while typing this.) 
One of the things I miss the most about Via's friendship is her family. I loved her mom and dad. they were always so welcoming and nice to me. I knew they loved their kids more than anything. I always felt safe around them: safer than anywhere else in the world. How pathetic that I felt safer in someone else's house than in my own right? And, of course, I loved Auggie.

Are there some cliches used? Yes. Are there some rather over the top moments? Yes. Does it make a big difference? No. It is brilliant despite those things. The voices of the characters and the interconnectedness of  life that they demonstrate are well worth the rather minor plot flaws in my opinion. This is a wonderful book, one that should be read by everyone.


Terri said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Brandy. I will read it aloud in the new school year, or if I can find it I'll read it this year.

Lisa Roberts said...

I love your review of this book and the quotes you chose for each narrator. I love Via's first line from her chapter. I always chose one book to give kids at birthday parties and this might be my next choice for "The Book" that everyone receives. My kids just have to read it!

Betsy said...

Great review, friend!

Brandy said...

Terri-I hope you can find it and enjoy it!

Lisa-That's a great idea.

Thanks Betsy!