Wonderby Published 14 Feb 2012
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?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
Wonder is one of those rare books that makes you want to hug everyone in it so tightly that they’ll have no doubt about how much you love them…and beyond that, it also makes you want to reach out and hug the whole world. It’s an upbeat, humorous, life-affirming story that deserves to be read—and it’s one that may just change its readers, too.
If you remember how terrifying it was to be a kid on a day to day basis, you’ll appreciate August’s story. 10-year-old Auggie is going to school for the first time in his life, and he has to navigate new rules, learn to interact with teachers, and figure out how to make new friends. In addition, he also has a severe facial deformity that stops strangers in their tracks, so all the usual perils of the fifth grade take on even more heightened stakes.
With the matter-of-fact wisdom that warmed Beverly Cleary’s books, this story about growing up is full of heart and humor, and written with a clear-eyed intelligence that never descends into cynicism. Auggie’s smart, funny personality will win over readers who will agonize with him over the complicated web of friendships and family even as they cheer for him as he learns some of life’s big and scary lessons.
It’s okay, I know I’m weird-looking, take a look, I don’t bite. Hey, the truth is, if a wookie started going to school all of a sudden, I’d be curious, I’d probably stare a bit! And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I’d probably whisper to them: Hey, there’s the wookie. And if the wookie caught me saying that, he’d know I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just pointing out the fact that he’s a wookie.
Even with a positive attitude and smart, loving parents, however, Auggie’s story is not an easy one to read, and my emotions ran wildly from sadness to hilarity to terrible anger at what happens to him. Not all kids are nice. Some kids behave one way in front of adults and another way in front of kids. Some adults are downright cruel. And just when you think life can’t possibly get any harder or more challenging, sometimes it does.
Although the book is primarily told from Auggie’s perspective, it was a surprise to me when it switched to a few other points of view. With a total of six different voices, I would normally say this is far too many, but in this particular case every person offered an insight into August’s beautiful personality and amazing life in a way that would be impossible to otherwise know. Reading about Auggie’s 27 surgeries, rejoicing at his vibrant inner life, hurting for him when he felt lonely or misunderstood, and seeing his life from various different perspectives, it’s impossible not to be moved by his story. And how can you not love a boy who understands that sometimes his mom might need his precious teddy bear more than he does?
Not entirely random side note: [spoilers removed]
Tears were streaming down my face as I finished this book—and the funny thing is, they were primarily tears of joy. Wonder is written with the kind of sensitivity and insight that I had hoped for when I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and it went the extra mile to be an uplifting story that made me want to embrace life and the people in it, too. I also very much appreciate that this middle grade book is written for its intended age group, not just a book for adults in the guise of a children’s book, even though it’s certainly one that can be enjoyed by readers of any age.
“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.”
A story like this comes along just a few times in a lifetime, and I fervently hope that readers will find their way to it. This short book that doesn’t waste a single page in squeezing your emotions so tightly you feel like you can't breathe, but when they're finally released, you may find that your heart is full of even more empathy, compassion, and love than you thought possible. We expect to be surprised by cruelty, but how wonderful it is to also be surprised by kindness.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
About the Inspiration Behind the Story
The ice cream incident in this story actually happened, but perhaps not in the way you might think. Learn about the surprising inspiration behind this story on the RJ Palcio's website. She's definitely an author to watch.
Ye gods, what a wonderful book! I don't read a lot of realistic middle grade fiction. I tend to gravitate toward fantasy. But this is probably the best such book I've read since Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
The main character August (Auggie) Pullman is a ten-year-old boy with severe facial abnormalities. Little kids scream when they see him. Older kids make fun of him and call him a freak. Auggie is home-schooled through grade four, but for middle school his parents decide to send him to a private school, Beecher Prep, in New York City. Wonder is the story of his fifth grade year, told partly from Auggie's perspective, and partly from the other kids in his life -- his sister Via, her oldest friend Miranda, Via's boyfriend Justin, and Jack and Summer, Auggie's new friends at Beecher Prep. Each narrator has a distinct, completely believable voice. Palacio writes with just the right balance of humor and pathos, making each character both flawed and sympathetic. She "gets" kids -- how they think, how they talk, how they have the capacity to be both horribly mean and incredibly brave and kind. I recognize these characters from my years of teaching middle school, and I'm sure young readers will recognize them too. The book rings with authenticity. The short chapters and shifting narrative make this a quick, easy read. It's a feel-good book with a great message, and the ending is a tearjerker in the best possible way. I'd recommend it without hesitation to most middle grade readers, girls or boys, even those who may not normally pick up realistic fiction.
Watch my review & discussion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txeTr...
What a WONDERful first book of the year! I read this book almost too quickly, I wanted it to last longer. This might be technically a children's book, but it really was such a special and meaningful read and I highly recommend that everyone read this once in their lives!
"You really are a wonder, Auggie. You are a wonder."
I've read this book twice now, and it will definitely always have a special place in my heart. This is a book that makes me laugh, makes me cry, and gives me endless amounts of hope. I love this book, and will probably be giving out copies to my friends and family this Christmas.
first read in May 2013
A wonderful read for all ages.