WONDER by R.J Palacio
By: Wendy E.N. Thomas
I had been hearing a lot of buzz about the young adult book WONDER by R.J. Palacio. “You’ve got to read it! “It’s incredible!” I only knew a little of the story, apparently it followed the experiences of a middle school boy who has a severe facial deformity. I usually don’t read young adult, but I figured what the heck, let’s find out if it’s really that good.
So very glad I did. It’s that good. WONDER is a well written account of what it’s like to have a disfiguring deformity and all the emotional pain and strength that goes with it. The young boy in the book’s name is August (Auggie) and when he was born he “won the lottery” by having 2 rare genetic abnormalities that manifested themselves in his deformed facial structure. Even with much surgery, his face still looked like it was “melting.”
WONDER follows August as he begins Middle school (“like a lamb to slaughter”) after being homeschooled for his entire life by his mother. He meets some kids who are nice or at the very least tolerant of him and others who are downright cruel. The cruel children, as expected, call him names and play a game of “Plague” where if you accidentally touched Auggie, you had 30 seconds in which to wash your hands before you got “his” plague.
Each section of the book is told from another character’s perspective - August, his friend, his sister, her boyfriend – it all comes together to create a complete and complex picture from different points of view of what it’s like to have and to live with someone who has a disability.
Gut-wrenchingly honest, WONDER doesn’t pull any punches. August is confused and at times angry when he doesn’t understand others’ reactions. “Why do I have to be so ugly?” he asks his mother at one point. August’s sister (Via) admits to herself that although she loves her brother, it is he who is the center of the universe that is her family. Everything is about Auggie’s care. It was only her grandmother who singled her out with extra attention. When the grandmother dies, she leaves Via orbiting, once again, around August.
Another poignant character, Jack, is a child chosen by the Principal to welcome Auggie to the new school. Although, he ends up truly liking Auggie, he struggles between being in the accepted crowd or being true to his new friend. Ultimately he makes a mistake which betrays and deeply hurts Auggie. Jack’s behavior is about as real as it gets when children are faced with trying to accept a difference and trying to fit in.
Within this book there is grief, perseverance, shame, embarrassment, and ultimately acceptance. A remarkably composed story, WONDER tells of our humanity and connection to each other.
WONDER is written in short chapters making it an easy read and a book that could easily be read out loud. But don’t mistake easy reading for any lack of depth, this book will break your heart in several places and in the end will make you cheer.
Some schools are using WONDER for reading assignments and I can’t think of a more important book to use in order to teach tolerance and understanding. Honestly, it should be required reading in every Middle school across the nation. I’d even go so far as to say everyone, young and old, should pick this book up and read it. We can all learn a thing or two from the story of August.
Bottom line is the moral of the story as told by August’s school principal: “"Wherever you are, whenever you can, try to act kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.”